William J.W. Brown, an emeritus School of Law professor (1968-2000) who excelled at making a potentially dry subject — federal taxation — attractive to his students, died June 12, 2019, at 81.
“He was really appreciated by the students as someone who was both great in the classroom and really cared about them,” recalled his law colleague Larry Frolik, a recently retired emeritus professor who taught federal income tax law while Brown focused on federal taxation as it applies to corporations, estates and gifts. “He counselled them individually and they knew he wanted them to succeed — both in the classroom and afterwards.
“Bill was a first-rate teacher,” Frolik said. “He could be lighthearted; he could make jokes, both about the topic and himself … But he really cared about the subject” — especially as it influenced the way in which society was organized and how people behaved. “He believed in its importance, particularly for lawyers.”
His twin sides emerged when the law school instituted a fall semester that started before Labor Day, Frolik remembered, and Brown began teaching the first week’s classes in a sport coat, tie and Bermuda shorts. “I won’t say it was a protest, but it was an acknowledgment that we were still in summer. That was very Bill,” Frolik said: sticking to standards while adding his own style.
Seniors in the School of Law thrice voted Brown their annual Excellence in Teaching Award (1994, 1999 and 2008); Brown also was honored with the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award (1991).
Born June 7, 1938 on Staten Island, N.Y., Brown earned his B.A. from Seton Hall University in 1960 and an LL.B. from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America in 1963, adding an LL.M. from Yale’s law school in 1968. He joined the New York law firm of Beekman and Bogue (1963-65), then began his teaching career at the Columbus School (1965-67) before joining Pitt the following year. Among his publications were a book on the federal taxation of corporations and one on tax strategies for separation and divorce.
He was twice elected University Senate president and chaired the Affirmative Action Committee and the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee. He also served on the University Press Board. “Bill had a strong belief that the faculty should have impact on how the University is run,” Frolik said, noting that Brown also was elected by his law school colleagues to the school’s steering committee.
Upon his retirement, Brown spent six years as director of the graduate tax program at Duquesne University's school of business and continued to teach at Pitt, Duquesne and Carlow until age 78.
Other public remembrances have noted his enthusiasm for many pursuits, including construction of his second home in Rector, PA. “Bill had a very full life,” Frolik marveled. “Bill was a very enthusiastic person when he got involved in something. He was very artistic and had a good eye for art and architecture. I was amazed at the kinds of projects he would take on.” Brown also wrote and published a memoir about his Catholicism, Canticle of Returning, in 2017.
He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Eliza Smith Brown, and children Will, Brendan and Regina.
Memorial gifts are suggested to the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services of Pittsburgh.