Obituary: Walter Blum, Law School
Walter J. Blum (A.B.'39, J.D.'41), the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Law School and one of the nation's leading authorities on taxation, insurance, bankruptcy and corporate reorganization, died in his Hyde Park home on Dec. 18. He was 76.
"Walter Blum will be remembered as one of the great legal scholars and teachers of the last half-century," said Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Professor and Dean of the Law School. "He gave shape to the way we think about the law of taxation, corporate reorganization and many other fields. He will be missed by everyone who cares deeply about the law, whether scholar, judge or practitioner."
Jerome Kurtz, professor of law at New York University and a former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, said, "Walter was one of the great tax scholars and innovative thinkers of modern times. He will be remembered as a pioneer in his field."
"Wally was a giant in our time, teaching several generations of fine tax people who shared his concern for the public as well as the private good," said Sheldon Cohen, tax chair at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and also a former IRS commissioner. "He was always a leader in developing ideas to improve the practical as well as the theoretical workings of our tax system. He was a fine human being. I will miss him and so will our tax system."
In addition to publishing many articles on taxation and corporate finance, Blum co-authored four seminal books. The Uneasy Case for Progressive Taxation (1953), which he co-authored with Harry Kalven, is widely considered the most incisive single critique of income taxation in the field of tax policy. Blum's other works include Public Law Perspectives on a Private Law Problem (1965), also with Harry Kalven, as well as the highly influential casebooks Materials on Reorganization, Recapitalization and Insolvency (1968) and Corporate Readjustments and Reorganization (1976), both co-authored with Stanley Kaplan.
Blum also advised government and private agencies on tax issues, public policy and corporate structure. Between 1963 and 1968, he served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury and the Department of Transportation, as well as to the Internal Revenue Service and the Administrative Conference of the States.
Since 1973, he had served as a consultant to the American Law Institute's Federal Income Tax Project. He had served as legal counsel to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1948.
Blum designed and directed the Law School's annual Federal Tax Conference, the premier tax conference in the country, which held its 47th annual meeting this year.
"Walter was much more to the University than a professor of law," said Howard Krane, Chairman of the University's Board of Trustees, partner at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, and a former student of Blum's. "For years he was a key adviser to presidents of the University, deans, faculty members, students, alumni and friends. He devoted his life and energies to this university as a scholar, an involved faculty member and a dedicated supporter of the institution. He helped make this unique university an even greater place."
Blum was associated with the University for much of his life. He graduated from the Laboratory Schools in 1935 and received his A.B. in 1939 and his J.D. in 1941 from Chicago, graduating first in his Law School class. While in law school, Blum was a member of the Order of the Coif and Phi Beta Kappa and was editor-in-chief of the Law Review.
From 1941 to 1943, Blum served as an attorney in the general counsel's office of the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. After a three-year stint in the military, he returned to the University as Assistant Professor in the Law School in 1946. He became Professor in 1953 and was named the Wilson-Dickinson Professor in 1975. He was named the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor in 1985. He became emeritus in 1988.
Blum served on many committees at the Law School and was instrumental in planning the construction of the Law School building, designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1950s. He also chaired numerous University committees, including those dealing with housing and residence-hall plans, faculty retirement and pension policies, employee benefits and campus planning. He served as spokesman for the Committee of the Council of the University Senate, and he chaired the Centennial Faculty Planning Committee from 1988 through the Centennial observance in 1991-92. In 1991, Blum received the University Alumni Service Medal for his extended, extraordinary service to the University. He was awarded the U-High/Laboratory Schools Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus Award last November.
He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the American Law Institute. From 1971 to 1982, he was a trustee for the College Retirement Equities Fund (CREF).
Blum is survived by two children, Wendy Blum Coggins of Minneapolis and Catherine Ann Scott of Burney, Calif., and three grandchildren. His wife, Natalie, died in 1987.
Contributions in Blum's honor may be sent to the Walter J. Blum Fund at the Law School or to the Laboratory Schools.
A memorial service at the University will be announced at a later date.