Remembering Mort Caplin
Former Chairman of the Advisory Board, Mortimer Caplin, passed away on Monday, July 15, 2019, at the age of 103.
Mortimer lived an exceptional life defined by integrity and commitment to the common good. Please find below Tina Bailem's 2012 interview with Mortimer Caplin that outlines his life and accomplishments:
Mortimer Caplin, DC Law legend and former IRS Commissioner under the Kennedy administration has been a strong supporter of THIS for Diplomats for many years. How did we get so lucky? It all began in the early 1960’s when his lovely wife Ruth, a good friend of one of the original founders of THIS, Ellie Israel, heard about our organization and involved herself immediately by organizing special programs and events. At the same time Mortimer, in his function as IRS Commissioner, traveled all over the world meeting with foreign governments in order to gain their support for some wide-sweeping tax reforms that, although originating in the United States, would impact many other countries as well. Learning about our mission from his wife, Mortimer realized what an amazing impact an organization like THIS could have on diplomatic relations and what a wonderful way it was to introduce Americans and American culture to the world. He eventually became the chair of the THIS Advisory Board which advises the Executive Committee on THIS policy, programs, and other activities, and assists in securing necessary funds for the organization. In this function he has served our organization for many successful years, because he believes in our mission of building international understanding and recognizes the devotion to this cause of THIS volunteers.
During his long and illustrious career, spanning over 70 years, Mortimer impacted many lives. In 1940, after graduating first in his class at the University of Virginia School of Law he served as a law clerk to U.S. Circuit Judge Armistead M. Dobie. Later he practiced law in New York City, with time out for his World War II military service.
As U.S. Navy beachmaster during the Normandy invasion, he was officially cited as a member of the D-Day assault force on Omaha Beach. As his lifelong philosophy has been to help people grow and improve their lives through education and active public service, in 1950 he turned to teaching and returned to UVA as professor of law, specializing in tax and corporate law.
During the Kennedy era he served on the President’s Task Force on Taxation and in January 1961 was appointed U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. During his tenure at the IRS, he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, which describes him as a "highly respected tax expert" and credits him for influencing President Kennedy's tax proposals.
In 1964 Mortimer resigned from the IRS to form his own law firm of Caplin & Drysdale here in Washington. Rightfully, he is very proud of the culture of the firm that he and his partners have managed to maintain. He says that “when we founded Caplin & Drysdale our idea was to bring together well-rounded lawyers who would be of service to the community and the bar, as well as to the firm. We didn’t want to be driven by the almighty demands of the billable hour. We wanted a firm that would offer a different way of life. As a professor, I can’t help but get excited when we have a partner who wants to teach, and at present we do have partners who are teaching part-time at Harvard, the University of Virginia, Georgetown, and George Washington. The firm encourages that kind of intellectual involvement in the law. There’s a great feeling of camaraderie, sharing, and respect. I am very proud of that.”
Over time, Mortimer taught tax law for 33 years, in addition to having a distinguished career as a tax attorney, one of the best in the country. As a testimony to his amazing and honest commitment to public service, teaching, and the educational process he received numerous awards, citations and honorary degrees from several universities and colleges, including the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Law from the University of Virginia and the Alexander Hamilton Award, the highest award conferred by the Secretary of the Treasury, for his “distinguished leadership.”
Being in constant demand, he has also served as trustee to a large variety of educational and charitable organizations and for over 10 years as chair of the UVA Council for the Arts. (He looks forward to the early 2013 opening of a new theater at UVA named after his wife Ruth, who headed the creation of the Arts Council.) His generosity, deeply felt humanity, and true dedication to the causes he believes in have made him not only a legend in law, but a legend in life itself. At 96, Mortimer still swims and goes to his office every day of the week. He is simply the most amazing person to meet, kind, welcoming and with very few regrets. He says he would have liked to met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who spoke at Mortimer’s UVA Law graduation, and to have talked with him; President Roosevelt’s philosophy of relieving the needs of the poor and to provide a safety net for them resonated strongly with Mortimer, who grew up during the great depression. He also still gets his most satisfaction from helping other people to grow, not surprisingly; he just is that kind of person. Modest, and like all truly great men, humble. He wishes to be remembered for the fact that “he did some good.” We hope he will be able to keep doing so for a very long time to come!
In this difficult time, we want to show the same support to Mortimer's family that he showed to our organization for so many years. The family asks that expressions of remembrance be made as a gift to the Mortimer M. Caplin Public Service Center at the University of Virginia Law School. A memorial service will be held in the Fall.