Tory was born in Toronto, Ontario, to Kathreen Jean Arnold and John Stewart Donald Tory, a lawyer who founded Torys. He had an older sister, Virginia, and a fraternal twin brother, James Marshall Tory.
Tory, along with his brother, James, graduated from the University of Toronto Schools in 1946 at the age of 16. Their father sent them to Phillips Academy Andover, where they studied for two years before enrolling at the University of Toronto. They were undergraduate students for two years before they switched streams to attend the University of Toronto Faculty of Law in 1949. They graduated in 1952 and completed two years of additional training at Osgoode Hall, and with his brother, they joined their father’s firm at the age of 24.
Together with his twin brother James Marshall Tory, he entered the practice of law in 1953, later founding the firm of Tory, Tory, Deslauriers (now Torys LLP) and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1965.
After successfully guiding the build-up of Torys, John ceased practising law in 1974 and began working full-time for the Thomson family, first under founder Roy Thomson and then, following Roy's death in 1976, for his son Kenneth, eventually becoming President of the family's principal holding company, The Woodbridge Company Limited. Until his death he was the president of Thomson Investments Limited. John was a friend and financial advisor of the late media magnate Kenneth Thomson for fifty years and continued until his death to serve on the board of Thomson Reuters, company formed by the merger of Thomson Corporation with international news service Reuters. The Globe and Mail described him as the "sage consigliere to the Thomson family."
Tory was also a friend to Joseph S. Atkinson, Toronto Star publisher. despite their political positions (Tory had ties to Conservatives and Atkinson with the Liberal Party). Atkinson appointed Tory and his brother James, to be Executors of his Will along with five others.
Tory married Elizabeth (Liz) Bacon, a nurse, on May 15, 1953. They had four children: John H. Tory (born 1954), Jennifer (born 1955), Jeffrey (born 1960) and Michael (born 1961). His son, John Tory, is the current Mayor of Toronto and former Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader.
Elizabeth Bacon was descended from Russian Jews. Her mother, Helen Yvonne Solomon, was born in 1909 to a Russian Jewish family that had emigrated to Canada six years earlier and settled in Toronto. Her father, Howard English Bacon, was a member of the Anglican Church of Canada and she was raised a Christian.
Tory suffered a stroke on April 1, 2011 while at his Florida home and died on April 3, 2011 at the age of 81.