Oliver Oldman ‘53, Learned Hand Professor of Law Emeritus, died on December 5, 2008, at the age of 88. Educated at Harvard College (S.B. 1942) and the Harvard Law School (LL.B. 1953), Oldman taught at the Law School from 1955 to 1993. He directed the International Tax Program from 1964 to 1989, and the East Asian Legal Studies program from 1980 to 1990. Even after retirement, he maintained an office at the Law School and continued his work until illness precluded his commute in late 2008. He continued teaching part time, during winter terms, until 2005. After that, during every Spring through 2007 (when he was 86), he led a small reading group of which he was especially proud. Until age 79 he was an avid tennis player. He also enjoyed his nearly annual round the world travel to visit former students and participate in conferences. Travel was an important part of his life — it kept him close to former students and allowed him to meet others who would become his students later.
The following tribute was written by his friends and colleagues, HLS Professors William Alford ’77 and Mark Ramseyer ’82.
A self-effacing man, Ollie kept many of his accomplishments to himself. Few knew, for example, that his first major international accomplishments – long before he entered the law – involved earning his trip across the Atlantic by playing clarinet on the Cunard Lines, and then, after War II, returning the Eiffel Tower to France on behalf of the US Army Signal Corps. Although Ollie would explain that “it was all downhill from there,” he enjoyed an illustrious career as one of the world’s leading scholars of tax administration and law, and as a beloved mentor and colleague.
Ollie’s award-winning scholarship centered on taxation and tax administration, with particular attention to state and local tax and the value added tax. A prolific scholar, he authored five casebooks on those areas of tax law, including Value Added Tax: A Comparative Approach with Material and Cases (2001), Taxation in Developing Countries (4th edition, 1990), and Readings on Taxation in Developing Countries (3rd edition, 1975).
From his earliest days on the Harvard faculty, he displayed both an impressive prescience for emerging trends in tax policy and a realistic appreciation for the prerequisites to effective administrative change. Over the course of his long career, he would advise many governments, including Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Eygpt, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
At Harvard Law’s International Tax Program, Ollie trained hundreds of tax officials from across the world, many of whom rose to be ministers, internal revenue commissioners, judges, and leading academics and practitioners. At the East Asian Legal Studies program, he continued the study of Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean law, expanding the program’s emphasis to other countries in what he termed “the Pacific Legal Community.”
Throughout, he was a steadfast, kind and generous teacher – so much so that, for almost two decades after taking emeritus status, he continued to counsel students, graduates, and scholars, and to bless the Law School with his wisdom.
In 1988, the Japanese government awarded Ollie the Japanese equivalent of knighthood – the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Degree with Neck Ribbon – for his contributions to the education and training of its tax officials.
Over the course of his career, Ollie was honored by various professional associations with awards and senior organizational and editorial positions. In 2000, he received the National Tax Association’s Daniel M. Holland Medal.
Close friends of Hisashi and Yumiko Owada while Mr. Owada was a Visiting Professor at the Law School, Ollie and Barbara Oldman acted as parents-away-from-home for the Owada’s daughter Masako when she studied at Harvard College a few years later. Masako would later marry the Japanese Crown Prince.
Ollie is survived by his wife Barbara, a son, Andrew, two daughters, Meg and Michele, two grandchildren and one great grandson. As Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan said in a message to the faculty upon the news of Ollie’s passing, “We can all feel grateful to have known this fine human being.”
Professor Oldman’s email will continue until June 2010. Please send tax deductible contributions to:
Oliver Oldman Memorial Fund
c/o John Macrae Harvard Law School Alumni Fund
125 Mt Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA. 02138M
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