Notices sorted by graduation date.

Caplin taught the Kennedys, made the cover of Time, left his mark on the University

Mortimer Caplin (Col ’37, Law ’40), law professor emeritus and lauded former Internal Revenue Service commissioner, died at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on July 15, four days after celebrating his 103rd birthday.

Mortimer M. Caplin addressing the 13th Annual Virginia Conference on Federal Taxation UVA Visual History Collection, Small Special Collections Library

Caplin was “a trailblazing scholar and teacher, exceptional lawyer and IRS Commissioner, and all-around prince of a person,” UVA Law Dean Risa Goluboff wrote in an email. “He represents the best of the UVA lawyer in his integrity, his joyful spirit, and his dedication to public service.” 

Caplin served as IRS commissioner from 1961 until 1964, gaining renown—and a 1963 Time magazine cover—for his efforts. According to The New York Times, he “was credited with making taxpaying more tolerable for the majority of Americans who do so voluntarily and tougher for the rest to avoid or evade.”

Caplin also introduced a centralized computer auditing system to replace the manual checking of tax forms and earned the Treasury Department’s highest recognition for his service: the Alexander Hamilton Award.

When President John F. Kennedy appointed him IRS commissioner, Caplin joked that he got the job because he had the “good judgment to have both Bobby and Teddy Kennedy as students at the University of Virginia and to pass them both,” as quoted in The New York Times.

Caplin taught at the Law School for more than three decades, both before and after his time at the IRS, and helped establish the school as a major player in tax law, according to Goluboff. He resumed teaching as a visiting law professor after leaving the IRS to co-found the Washington, D.C., tax-law firm Caplin & Drysdale. He also served on UVA’s Board of Visitors.

During his undergraduate years, Caplin studied political science and economics, won the NCAA middleweight boxing championship, and served as president of the drama group the Virginia Players. “Drama has been such an important part of my life, and it has served me well,” Caplin told UVA Today in 2006. “When I was IRS commissioner, I was on stage for four years.”

Later, he graduated first in his Law School class and practiced in New York City, taking time out to serve with the U.S. Navy during World War II, specifically during the Allied invasion of Normandy.

The Caplin name adorns multiple spaces across UVA, where both he and his wife, Ruth, donated generously, such as the Ruth Caplin Theatre and the Law School’s Caplin Auditorium and Caplin Pavilion.

In 2001, UVA awarded Caplin the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal in Law—one of the University’s three highest honors—in recognition of having “lived a life in law as a high calling.”

“He will be remembered as a person who had boundless joy for every aspect of life,” said his son Michael, “and who brought 110 percent to everything he did, whether it was playing with his grandchildren or helping one of his kids memorize their lines or negotiating with the IRS.”

Survivors include a daughter and three sons, Lee Caplin (Law ’72), Michael Caplin (Law ’76) and Jeremy Caplin (Grad ’80); eight grandchildren, including Daniel Caplin (Col ’12); and three great-grandchildren.

—Jodi Broadwater Macfarlan