March 28, 2016 – Professor Emeritus Ira B. Shepard, who unraveled the complexities of tax law for thousands of students during his 36 years in the classroom at the University of Houston Law Center, died Sunday at the age of 78.
Known among colleagues and students for his kindness and good humor, Shepard was known nationally for his expertise in the ever-evolving field of tax law.
"Ira retired before I became dean in 2014, but in the past 18 months, I had gotten to know him and found him to be all that one could hope for in a law professor," said Dean Leonard M. Baynes. "He was well credentialed, well published, and a leader in his field of study, tax. Ira was an incredible asset to the Law Center even after his retirement. He continued to participate in conferences and promote the Law Center at every opportunity. He will be missed by all. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers."
"Ira and I were friends for many years, having begun at the Law Center a few years apart," said Raymond T. Nimmer, the Leonard Childs Professor of Law and former dean. "He was one of the group that brought us up from one place to where we are now, but more important, he was a friend."
"With his Harvard credentials and elite practice background, he helped set a good precedent for hiring, and worked hard to build our tax law program," said Professor Emeritus Stephen Zamora, who also served as dean during Shepard's tenure. "He was a fount of erudition – a question about a poet, or Shakespeare, or a cultural question, would prompt him to take out his little black book in which he registered all kinds of arcane information."
Shepard, a primary force in establishing the school's LL.M. Taxation program, retired from teaching in 2011, but continued as a senior adviser to the program and as an active speaker and participant in tax-related organizations and conferences. He was honored in 2013 with the Outstanding Texas Tax Lawyer award by the Tax Section Council of the State Bar of Texas. The award is the highest bestowed by the Tax Section to honor colleagues for their outstanding reputation, expertise, and professionalism in the practice of tax law in Texas.
"Ira was a leader in the national tax community and in Houston," said Paul Asofsky, an adjunct professor and senior advisor to the LL.M. Tax Program. "He carved out a niche for himself, apprising tax practitioners of current developments in the tax law on a monthly basis. Participants in tax institutes all over the country and at the Wednesday Tax Forum here in Houston looked forward to his presentations, which were laced with good humor as well as scholarship."
Associate Professor Bret Wells added, "Ira was instrumental in getting the Houston Business and Tax Law Journal started. He had a strong interest in facilitating conversations about the tax law among academics, practitioners, and the judiciary.
"He also was instrumental in forging the University of Houston Law Center's IRS Externship Program. That program allows our students to gain valuable experience working with the IRS District Counsel. UHLC was one of the first law schools to have such a program, and Ira's vision helped create that program in the early 1990s.
"He also spoke monthly in Houston for over 30 years on federal income tax updates and maintained a rigorous speaking schedule that touched the lives of everyone in the tax community on a national scale. His public speaking endeared him to the tax profession and made him one of the most beloved and respected tax law professors of this generation."
Shepard joined the then-UH Bates College of Law in 1975 after teaching at the University of Georgia School of Law and as a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina Law School. He received his baccalaureate degree from Harvard College in 1958 and his law degree in 1964 from Harvard, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Following graduation, he practiced in New York City with the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
As he neared retirement, Shepard described teaching tax law as something of a moving target as Congress enacts an "appalling" number of changes, special rules, and exemptions. "It's incredibly more complicated," he said of tax laws then compared to the already complicated laws on the books when he first started teaching.
With all his expertise, he was asked, did he do his own taxes? "I do it the old fashioned way," he said with a smile. "I hire a CPA."
Shepard is survived by his wife, Rosemary, his son, Mark, and daughter, Hannah.
A memorial service will be held in Congregation Emanu El's Proler Chapel, 1500 Sunset Boulevard, at 3:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 29. Burial will be private.