TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, January 13, 2006

Death of Edwin S. Cohen

EcohenI am sorry to bring you the news of the death of Edwin S. Cohen, Undersecretary of the Treasury in the Nixon Administration and longtime tax professor at Virginia, at age 91.  I will share further details as they become available.  In the meantime, here is a biography of Eddie from the Virginia web site:

Edwin S. Cohen was born in Richmond, Virginia, on September 27th, 1914. He grew up in that city and at age fifteen entered the University of Richmond. Three years later he entered law school at the University of Virginia where he was an excellent student and served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review. He received his law degree in 1936 before his twenty-first birthday.

After law school he went to New York and worked from 1936 to 1949 as an associate with Sullivan & Cromwell. There he began to specialize in taxation and investment matters and afterwards gave lectures on the subjects. In 1949 he formed the firm Root, Barrett, Cohen, Knapp and Smith with some of his former law classmates and continued doing tax work for the mutual fund industry. He remained with that practice until 1965.

Cohen had always been interested in teaching, and in 1963, Dean Hardy Dillard offered him the opportunity to teach law at his alma mater. For two terms he commuted from New York City to Charlottesville twice a month to teach a tax course. After the second course he was offered a visiting professorship, and a year later, an appointment to the faculty. In 1968 he was named to the Joseph M. Hartfield Chair.

In 1969 the Nixon administration designated him Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy to work with Secretary of Treasury David M. Kennedy and Under Secretary Charles E. Walker. In 1972 he was appointed Under Secretary of the Treasury and served in that position until his resignation in 1973.

After his stint in the Treasury Department Cohen resumed teaching at Virginia and practicing law with Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. Later he became partner and senior counselor at the firm until his retirement in 1986.

Cohen served on numerous committees, task forces, councils, and clubs throughout his career. From the early 1950s he acted as consultant in various tax matters for the American Law Institute. In 1956 he became part of a seven-member advisory group for the House Ways and Means Committee to consider the revision of the corporate tax rules in the federal tax law. He drafted a revised statute and a report explaining the group's recommendations for corporations, partnerships, estates, trusts and tax administration.

As a young tax lawyer in New York he was part of the Tax Forum, a group of junior tax lawyers that presented papers on tax subjects once a month. Later as a senior lawyer, he was a member of the Tax Club. His participation in the work of the ABA included membership in the Section of Taxation of which he became chairman in 1956 and member of the governing council in 1958. In the 1960s he served on a number of federal advisory groups or task forces: in 1965, President's Johnson Task Force to Improve the World-Wide Competitive Effectiveness of American Business; in 1967, the advisory group for the Commissioner of Internal Revenue; and in 1968, the Task Force on Federal Tax Policy to make recommendations to President-elect Nixon. Between 1968-1971 he worked with the legislators of Virginia, first as a counselor for the Virginia Income Tax Commission, and later as a member of the Virginia Income Tax Conformity Study Commission. In addition Cohen was a member of the American College Tax Counsel, American Judicature Society, D.C. Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, Order of the Coif, Raven Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa, Phi Delta Epsilon, Phi Epsilon Pi, among many others.

For Eddie's Covington & Burling biography, see here.

As many readers of this blog know, Eddie published an autobiography, A Lawyer's Life: Deep in the Heart of Taxes (Tax Analysts, 1994).  Michael Graetz closed his review of Eddie's book this way:

Ed Cohen's passions, his energy, his courage, and his sense of humor -- all of which are amply demonstrated in this book -- should, as he intends, arouse others to accept similar challenges, to worry less about security, less about the Volvo payments, and instead to take a few chances. Like his career itself, Ed Cohen's optimism should serve to inspire the current generation to engage their energies in pursuit of a satisfying personal and professional life. I hope it will also serve to encourage people in positions of power at law firms and on law faculties to strive to ensure that the kind of rewarding multidimensional career that Ed Cohen has enjoyed so much remains possible for the generations of lawyers that follow.

I recommend wholeheartedly the marvelous stories that await you in Ed Cohen's autobiography. Jack Nolan puts it exactly right in his foreword to Cohen's book when he says:

This is a book that, at the very least, every lawyer, young and old, should read for inspiration. Here is a man, small in stature, who overcame difficult hurdles in his early life, who was determined, with matriarchal encouragement, to excel academically, who entered college at age 15, who became editor- in-chief of the university newspaper, and who learned early on -- "do not accept ipse dixits, analyze for yourself, and feel free to challenge the thoughts of others." These were among many convictions that shaped his entire life as a lawyer, professor of law, and government official. These convictions recur repeatedly in the fascinating description of his work in all of these capacities.

Suffice it to say, Ed Cohen has achieved his book's "original purpose," to demonstrate that his professional life, which was "devoted primarily to the practice and teaching of tax law" has not been "dull and dreary," but rather "dramatic, humorous and exciting." Cohen's enthusiasm, as he returns to the classroom at the University of Virginia Law School in his 80th year, is palpable and, I hope, contagious. Perhaps next he will put aside his tennis racket and golf clubs to take up basketball. Enjoy!

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