In Memoriam: Douglas D. Drysdale ’53, Tax Firm Co-Founder and Philanthropist

Douglas D. Drysdale

Douglas D. Drysdale graduated from UVA in 1944 and the Law School in 1953. Photo by Tom Cogill

November 29, 2018

Douglas D. Drysdale ’53, a founding member of Caplin & Drysdale and a former University of Virginia School of Law lecturer, died Tuesday in Charlottesville. He was 94.

Drysdale co-founded Caplin & Drysdale with former IRS Commissioner and UVA Law professor Mortimer M. Caplin ’40 in 1964. Today, the firm offers legal services in 13 tax practice areas and employs more than 60 attorneys in New York and Washington, D.C. Drysdale retired from the firm in 2013.

At UVA Law, Drysdale taught tax law from 1960-1981 and later served on the executive committee for the Law School’s 2004-12 capital campaign. He was a life member of the Law School’s Dean’s Council.

“Doug was a hero to the Law School and humble about it,” said Luis Alvarez Jr. ’88, president and CEO of the Law School Foundation.

As counsel to David A. Harrison III ’41, Drysdale was also the architect behind the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professorships, announced in 2002 as a $34.8 million gift through Harrison’s endowed estate.

“Doug Drysdale was a gem,” said former Dean John C. Jeffries Jr. ’73, senior vice president of advancement at UVA. “I never knew a more effective lawyer or a finer gentleman. The Law School benefited from Doug’s personal generosity and also from his advice and guidance to David Harrison.”

As a member of the University of Lynchburg Board of Trustees in 2013, Drysdale and his wife, Elaine Hadden, pledged $3 million toward the expansion and renovation of the university’s student center. The Douglas and Elaine Hadden Drysdale Student Center was named in their honor.

Professor Michael Doran was an associate and junior partner at Caplin & Drysdale before going into teaching, and considers Drysdale a mentor and model lawyer.

“He had technical mastery of every corner of the tax law, and he was highly skilled as both an advocate and a counselor,” Doran said. “His advice was invaluable. I often thought that it would be a privilege to be his client.”

Doran said Drysdale’s colleagues remember his patience and kindness, especially with young lawyers. He recalled one time when he wanted to talk to Drysdale about a development but was met with a closed office door.

“His secretary tried to warn me off, telling me that she had strict orders not to disturb him; I knocked on the door anyway,” Doran recalled. “It was late in the day on April 15, and there was Doug filling out his own tax returns with a No. 2 pencil. He looked up, smiled and said in his Central Virginia accent, ‘Michael, I trust you’re here to help.’”

Drysdale earned his LL.B. from the University of Virginia in 1953 and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif. He earned a B.A. from UVA in 1944.

A memorial service will be held Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Farmington Country Club.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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