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Yale 62

Willard B. Taylor

Willard TaylorWillard B. Taylor died on May 17, 2024. He was 83. Mr. Taylor was widely regarded as the leading tax lawyer of his generation. He was a role model and inspiration to generations of talented professionals.

Born in New York City, he prepared for Yale at Exeter. He was a political science honors major and ranking scholar. He roomed in Pierson with Ralph Arkush, Richard Barlow and Kurt Koegler. He was a member of Zeta Psi and Wolf’s Head, as well as Pi Sigma Alpha and Dwight Hall, where he served as Vice President and Community Chair.

He taught, wrote and spoke widely, and he was a leader of the New York Bar including having served as the Chair of the Tax Section of the NYSBA. However, he was best known for his enormous energy, efficiency, clarity and breadth of focus. Other tax lawyers specialized in particular areas, but Mr. Taylor specialized in every aspect of tax law. Clients spoke of him with reverence and awe after his retirement and continued to seek him out, having developed deep friendships over his years of practice. As a partner of Sullivan & Cromwell beginning in 1972, Mr. Taylor oversaw the development of the firms’ burgeoning practices in mergers, acquisitions, and financial institutions, and he helped pioneer the current tax treatment of pass-through entities and vehicles. He was one of the two partners who founded the firm’s London office and in later years worked out of the firm’s Paris office. H. Rodgin Cohen, Senior Chairman of the firm and the country’s leading banking lawyer had this to say: “Willard was unmatched in his knowledge of the breadth and depth of the tax law and its interrelationship with the entirety of the legal system. But what made him truly unique was an uncanny ability to use that knowledge to solve clients’ most difficult problems.” Mr. Taylor was known for maintaining a polite and poised demeanor under the greatest pressure and for his commitment to teaching and mentoring of the next generation of lawyers. He was committed to inclusion before its value was embraced – volunteering to teach when desegregation caused staff shortages in the South and promoting women and members of the LGBT community in the practice of law. He taught in the NYU tax program for 30 years and, at various times, was visiting professor at the law schools at the University of San Diego, Yale University, the University of Toronto and the University of Virginia. Mr. Taylor was also active in non-profit arenas and was a major supporter of the arts. He was an impassioned trustee at The Kitchen, the boundary-defying New York experimental arts institution, serving from 1981-2011 during a pivotal moment of the institution’s growth, and he was a long serving member of the Board of Trustees of Aperture, a non-profit publisher devoted to creating insight, community and understanding through photography. His courage in recent years dealing with multiple systems atrophy was an example for all of us. As one good friend said, “he taught us how to live; he also taught us how to die.” Mr. Taylor is survived by his wife, Virginia, and by his blended family, his daughters, Martien, Severn, Alexandra and Madeleine, by his sons-in-law, Neal, Scott and Michael, by his grandchildren Juliet, Fre, Harlan, Heming, Willa, Olivia, Sebastian, Audrey and Peter, and by his sister Juliet Taylor Walsh.

Our classmate Eli Newberg adds

My close friend Willard Taylor and I sustained our friendship through a shared commitment to social justice that betrayed his role as an international authority on corporate taxation.

Serving brilliantly as an expert in helping companies avoid taxes, opening his firm’s European office in Paris, and teaching this methodology at law schools across the U.S., his life was a delicate balancing act of scholarship, advocacy and social commitment.

We shared interests in traditional jazz and strengthening the foundations of male character development.

Our wives had their own relationship, which sustained through Willard and Virginia’s courtship and marriage at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Manhattan through their struggle against Willard’s devastating neurological illness that left his brilliant mind intact even as his body deteriorated.

We traveled to New York for what became our final meeting, shortly before he took matters into his own hands, enrolling in a program in Vermont that would end his suffering.

Ultimately, although it was poison that killed this marvelous person, his legacy lives on through his dedication to his family and his friends, one of whom said anonymously, “Willard taught us how to die.”


— John Harger Stewart