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MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR
JUDGE WILLIAM M. DRENNEN
April 12, 2001
THE CLERK: All rise. The Court is now convened in special session, Chief Judge Wells presiding.
CHIEF JUDGE WELLS: Good afternoon. On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to welcome you to this Special Session of the United States Tax Court. Today, we are gathered to remember and honor our friend and colleague Judge William M. Drennen. We are here not only to honor him but also to comfort ourselves by noting the many ways in which he touched our lives. We are pleased to do so in the presence of his wife of 60 years, Margaret Morton Drennen, affectionately known to all as Maggie, and their four children: Margaret Penelope McLanahan, of Athens, Georgia, who is here with her husband, John, their two children, Rhodes and Temple, and their grandsons, William and John, Jr. Next is William M. Drennen, Jr., of Charleston, West Virginia, who is here with his son Samuel. Next is David Holmes Drennen, of Denver; and, the last of their children, but certainly not least, is Dale Louise Walter, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, who is here with her husband, Hank, and their son, Ned. Maggie's niece, Holly Flint, is here as well. Also present today are our Special Trial Judges, Senior Judges, retired Judges, former Government officials, leaders of the bar, friends, and law clerks to Judge Drennen.
Judge Drennen was born in Jenkins, Kentucky, on March 1, 1914. His career is quite impressive. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1936 and a law degree in 1938 from Ohio State University. During law school, he was employed in the office of the Ohio State Tax Commissioner. After graduation from law school, he clerked for the Hon. George W. McClintic, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia. Subsequently, he joined the law firm of Brown, Jackson & Knight (now Jackson & Kelly) in Charleston, West Virginia.
From 1942 to 1945, Judge Drennen was a Naval Air Combat Intelligence Officer in the Pacific, earning the rank of lieutenant commander.
After the war, he returned to Charleston, where he became a partner at Jackson & Kelly and served as a member of the city council, the board of trustees of Charleston Memorial Hospital, the board of directors of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, the board of directors of the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the American Judicature Society, the ABA Section of Taxation, and the Englewood Country Club. He was president of the West Virginia Tax Institute.
Judge Drennen was appointed to the Tax Court by President Eisenhower, taking the oath of office on October 1, 1958. He was elected Chief Judge for three consecutive 2year terms, serving from 1967 to 1973. He was the last Chief Judge to serve for three consecutive terms.
While living in Washington, Judge Drennen had been a member of the Metropolitan Club and the Chevy Chase Country Club, where he had served as president, vice president, chairman of the executive committee, and member of the board of governors.
The most important piece of legislation affecting the Tax Court, the 1969 legislation that changed the Court's status from an independent agency in the executive branch to an independent judicial body, was passed while Judge Drennen was serving as Chief Judge. He spearheaded this very important effort to elevate the Court's status. It was a turning point in Tax Court history, because it gave the Court status as an independent court under Article I of the U.S. Constitution, bringing the Court into the judicial branch of the Government and increasing its visibility and image as an independent adjudicatory body.
Obtaining this status secured the Court's actual independence as a Court, but there was one more very important matter that had to be dealt with. At the time, the Court was physically located in the IRS building on Constitution Avenue. If the Court was to secure the appearance of independence, it needed to have its own courthouse. So, this was the next important piece of business that Judge Drennen went to work on-his efforts were instrumental in the building of the courthouse we sit in today. Judge Drennen was Chief Judge during the initial phases of the construction of the building, which was completed in 1974. We will be forever grateful for Judge Drennen's insightfulness and hard work in bringing about our Article I Court status and this
courthouse. The pictures of the proceedings to dedicate the new building, which include many shots of Judge Drennen in action, still hang on the walls of the Judges' dining room.
But these were not the only accomplishments for which Judge Drennen was known. During his 35 years on the bench, Judge Drennen was a force of intellect on the Court and was known as a man of high principle. He wrote 895 opinions, 326 of which were published as division opinions in the Tax Court Reports.
Additionally, he was a truly remarkable athlete. Not only was Judge Drennen a colleague of mine, but he was also a friend and mentor. When I came to the Court, he had already assumed senior status, which he took on June 2, 1980. I still remember marveling at what a great golf swing he had. He was still a vibrant man when he retired on December 31, 1993.
We miss the company of Judge Drennen at the lunch table in the Judges' dining room where he was a regular. He was the quintessential gentleman-the most gracious of hosts. His manner was quiet yet firm.
Judge Drennen added so much to this Court that it humbles me to think that we can possibly honor him enough by these proceedings. There have been many great Judges in our past, and, certainly, Judge Drennen was one of them. By no means do all Judges achieve wide acclaim. For many, the outward recognition they receive is the respect and affection of their colleagues and fellow lawyers, and even that is more frequently felt than expressed. Their inner satisfaction, which they do not articulate, even to themselves, comes from devotion of their best efforts of mind and heart to the service of the ideal of justice for all who appear before them. This is the kind of gentleman and jurist Judge Drennen was.
We will now hear from Judge Dawson, who served on the Court with Judge Drennen longer than any of us on the bench, after whom we will hear from Judge Nims, then Brook Voght, who will speak on behalf of Judge Drennen's law clerks, and then we will hear from Judge Drennen's two sons, Bill and David Drennen. Judge Dawson.
JUDGE DAWSON: The Chief Judge has told you about the highlights of Judge Drennen's distinguished career, his accomplishments in private law practice, his community service, and his work with the Tax Court. Courts, like all
public and private organizations, should honor their heroes if they expect to endure. So it is today that the United States Tax Court honors one of its heroes, Judge William M. Drennen. I shall tell you why I thought Bill Drennen was such an outstanding jurist and a great leader of this Court during the 6 years he served as our Chief Judge.
I did not know Bill Drennen personally before I joined the Court, although I was aware of his reputation as a respected tax lawyer, judge, and active member of the ABA Section of Taxation. When I came here, 4 years after he did, we became friends and close colleagues. I frequently sought his advice and assistance. I felt almost immediately that he was destined to succeed Norman Tietjens as our Chief Judge. That happened because he was so admired and trusted by the Judges and the entire Court staff. He was a person with a human touch and a charming smile who inspired loyalty. He epitomized Mark Twain's statement that “the miracle or the power, that elevates the few, is to be found in their industry, application, and perseverance under the promptings of a brave and determined spirit.”
In the 9 years before we elected him Chief Judge, Bill Drennen was a prodigious worker. He wrote timely opinions because he believed, as we all should, that justice delayed is justice denied. During that period he heard and decided several significant Federal tax cases. His opinions were well reasoned, scholarly, straightforward, and devoid of ringing rhetoric. He had a clear grasp of the law, a searching and restless intellect, and a remarkable ability to explain complex tax issues in understandable terms. Not only were his opinions models of lucidity, but he seemed to have a real feel for the law and life at the grassroots.
Judge Drennen's opinions covered a wide variety of tax questions. He was regarded as the Court's expert on depletion. A good example is his opinion in Island Creek Coal Co. (43 T.C. 234). Probably no Judge on the Tax Court knew as much as he did about railroads and their tax problems. His opinion in Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (75 T.C. 497), which fills half of volume 75 of the Tax Court Reports, is a classic example of judicial craftsmanship. He also decided important corporate tax cases involving the Gillette Company, National Home Products Company, Columbia Pictures, Inc., Occidental Life Insurance Company, Pepsi-Cola Bottling
Company, and Seattle National Bank. He wrote a number of leading opinions pertaining to Federal estate tax and procedural issues. At times this usually gentle Judge could be toughminded. He had little tolerance for tax protesters who defied the Court's orders and processes. When Stanley Trohimovich, a notorious tax protester, failed to comply with the Court's subpoenas and orders, Judge Drennen found him guilty of criminal contempt and ordered him imprisoned for 30 days as punishment.
In his early years, Judge Drennen was a key member of our Rules, Legislative, and Building Committees. He was often the Court's effective representative and participant at the Taxation Section meetings.
Judge Drennen was a skilled administrator and a successful leader of the highest rank. From the moment he became Chief Judge, he was determined to improve the image and stature of the Court. He knew that by working together we could make the Court better. While he respected the traditions and procedures of the past, he was a pragmatist who believed that nothing remains constant except change itself. He set specific goals and objectives, and he achieved all of them.
Just consider what he accomplished. First, more than any of his predecessors, he built a strong bridge of mutual understanding with the ABA Section of Taxation and established excellent relations with the tax bar throughout the country. In Judge Tannenwald's last address to the Taxation Section, Judge Tannenwald singled out Judge Drennen's significant contribution in that respect.
Second, he worked with the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and Congressional Appropriations Committees to secure the funding (over $30 million) that was needed to build this Courthouse to replace the offices we then occupied in the Internal Revenue Building. He presided at the groundbreaking ceremony. He was actively involved while this building was under construction. He was one of the featured speakers at the courthouse dedication ceremony on November 22, 1974. Another speaker on that occasion was Congressman Tom Steed of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that had approved our funding. Mr. Steed commented: “You can't say enough about this fellow, Judge Drennen. Year after year