The Fordham Law community mourns the passing of Professor Emeritus Donald Sharpe, a member of the faculty for nearly 50 years who not only shaped the Law School’s tax law curriculum, but worked diligently to make legal education more affordable from his start on the faculty in 1972 until his retirement from teaching in 2017. In the late 1980s, Sharpe led the effort to create Fordham Law’s first student loan forgiveness program, which has helped hundreds of graduates entering the public sector of the law. He was also named the chair of the student financial aid committee in 1988 by then Dean John Feerick ’61 and served on Fordham University’s Advisory Committee on Planned Charitable Giving. He received Fordham University’s Bene Merenti Medal in 1992 and 2012 for his 20 and 40 years of “outstanding service,” respectively, and ultimately served under five Fordham Law deans. Sharpe died on January 3 at the age of 87.
“Together with Gus Katsoris, Don fleshed out the tax curriculum from a single course to a whole panoply of offerings,” said Dean Matthew Diller. “He was known for bringing his quick dry sense of humor to these important subjects. I will always remember Don’s energy and wit and will miss him, as will so many in our community.”
“I would often call him and we would collaborate, discuss new legislation, and compare notes,” said Constantine “Gus” Katsoris, Wilkinson Professor of Law. “He was a close friend and wonderful colleague, and this really is a great loss to the Law School, which he loved. I’ll always admire how Don did whatever he thought would be best for Fordham Law and did an all-around terrific job, like teaching night courses every year and bringing smiles to people’s faces with his humor.”
Sharpe graduated from Oberlin College and earned a masters at Harvard University in the history of science. He attended Boston College Law School in the evenings while teaching at Harvard during the day, and later obtained an LL.M. in taxation from New York University.
After working in private practice and teaching at Albany Law School, New York University Institute on Federal Taxation, and the Practising Law Institute, Sharpe joined the Fordham Law School faculty in the fall of 1972. At the time, Fordham Law’s student newspaper reported that there was “a 25-percent increase in the [size of the]faculty,” through the hiring of eight new faculty members, “thereby permitting a 60-percent increase in the number of elective courses given.”
“What is striking about my early days at the Law School was the extraordinary talent of colleagues who had preceded me in joining the faculty, going back as early as 1948,” Sharpe said upon his retirement. “Professors such as Joseph McLaughlin, Robert Byrn, John Calamari, Joseph Crowley, Martin Fogelman, Gus Katsoris, Leonard Manning, Joseph Perillo, Earl Phillips, Thomas Quinn, Joseph Sweeney, and Charles Whelan, S.J., will forever walk the halls of Fordham Law School as giants of its professorial history.”
“Students talked about the breadth of his knowledge, the clarity of his exposition, and most of all his laid-back humor. We on the faculty enjoyed his humor every bit as much as the students did,” said former Dean Michael M. Martin, who joined the faculty alongside Sharpe in 1972. “For almost 50 years, Don was part of the glue that keeps the Fordham Law community strong, and I will miss him.”
“I remember Don as a fairly soft-spoken person who never had a burning desire to be in front [of the spotlight],” said Professor Emeritus Michael Lanzarone.
Teaching was one of Sharpe’s passions, as evident through the number of courses he taught at Fordham Law like estate planning and the evening section of income tax, as well as the lasting impact he had on his students. In their class evaluations of his classes in 2010, students called Sharpe a “tax genius,” as well as “kind, knowledgeable, and dedicated.” One student commented that, “If Professor Sharpe ever decides to retire, just replay his class tapes instead of hiring another professor.”
“The Internal Revenue Code is an onion with layer upon layer of complexity,” said Sharpe. “I want my students to peel the onion.”
Sharpe wrote extensively in the field of federal tax throughout his career, including articles on topics such as charitable trusts, hobby losses, irrevocable trusts, and farm loss deduction.
Sharpe is survived by his wife Elaine; son Richard; daughter Alison Avram; son-in-law Mathew Avram; and grandchildren, Rachel Alexandra, Alexander Arthur, and Noah Hudson.
Arrangements for a celebration of life for the Fordham Law community have not yet been announced, but will be shared once available.