In Memoriam: Charles W. Shewbridge III

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“Sometimes, everything comes together.” That tagline from a turn-of-the century Volkswagen commercial was how Charles W. Shewbridge III, TEI’s 1999–2000 international president, chose to open the annual report that summarized his year in office.

Shewbridge, who died in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, on February 3, was a forty-year member of TEI. That more than twenty years have passed since he left active service at TEI means that a significant portion of the Institute’s 6,000 members never had a chance to meet him or know of his enduring contributions to the organization. My goal in the next few paragraphs is highlight his accomplishments and show that his one-year term as president and four-decade tenure as a TEI member were consequential and proof positive that, sometimes, everything does come together.

Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Shewbridge attended Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Following a stint in the US Army, he began his career with Dalton, Pennell, & Company, a public accounting firm in Richmond. His career as an in-house tax professional began in 1970 when Shewbridge joined the tax department of Universal Leaf Tobacco, a tobacco brokerage house. A decade later, he moved to Virginia Electric & Power Company, which subsequently became Dominion Resources.

While at Dominion Resources, Shewbridge joined TEI and became active in the new Virginia Chapter, which had been spun off the Carolinas-Virginia Chapter. He left his hometown in 1984 to become head of tax for BellSouth Corporation in Atlanta. He was BellSouth’s chief tax executive for eighteen years. Upon transferring from TEI’s Virginia to its Southeastern (now Atlanta) Chapter, Shewbridge did what seemed natural (to him at least): he raised his hand, first locally and then at the Institute level.

Within a year of Shewbridge becoming a TEI member, I joined the Institute’s staff in Washington, D.C., as its first tax counsel. We were, at most, nodding acquaintances between 1982 and 1988, when Shewbridge became president of the Atlanta Chapter. After that, our interactions grew in number and significance. From someone to say hello to, he became someone to work with regularly, especially after he became his chapter’s representative on TEI’s Board of Directors and later a member of the Executive Committee.

It wasn’t all work, of course. The orientation session for new chapter presidents in 1988 was held at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and given its locale, the meeting drew not only TEI members and staff but also their families. My wife and daughters met Shewbridge and his wife, Jo, at this meeting. You can tell a lot about someone from how they interact with children, and my family’s experience at that meeting showed me that the Shewbridges were people I wanted to spend time with. Courteous, yes. Cordial, yes. Kind, yes. But more than that, they connected with my daughters at their level, and they were cool.

That view is not limited to my family. When I reached out to Shewbridge’s TEI contemporaries for memories, Linda Burke of the Pittsburgh Chapter (who herself served as TEI’s president in 1993–1994) shared that her daughter “thought Jo was the coolest lady on the planet.” She added that Shewbridge “epitomized graciousness, civility, good order, and good fun. His curiosity was boundless, about eclectic and numerous topics. We did not agree on politics, but the discussions were never uncomfortable.” I will return to that theme in a little bit.

While my work on TEI’s staff focused on advocacy, until he entered TEI’s leadership queue, my work with Shewbridge focused on education and networking. For example, in 1995 he was asked to chair a special task force on continuing education. The task force recommended many changes to enhance the quality, value, and timeliness of TEI’s continuing education programs and conferences. It was not the most glamorous assignment, but you could not tell that from Shewbridge’s engagement. Paul Cherecwich of the Salt Lake City Chapter, who served as president immediately before Shewbridge, put it this way: “What I remember most about Chuck is his willingness to take on new TEI assignments prior to his term as president.”

Bob Ashby of the Nashville Chapter, who served as president two years later, after Shewbridge, agreed. “He was always willing and ready to help, but he never took it upon himself to come forward and try to tell you how to do whatever.”

My assessment is similar: he wanted to get things done, and because he was also very comfortable with who he was, he was rarely wedded to “his way.” He did not need to grab credit or elbow others out of the way.

Shewbridge became president of TEI on the cusp of a new millennium (a word he used in his inaugural TEI column but then banished from his vocabulary). He was open to change but partial to tradition. For example, he was the last TEI president to be installed in formal dress in the fall of 1999. He and Jo loved to dress up, but they could have fun regardless of what they wore. Although I think he was personally disappointed to exchange his tuxedo and cummerbund for a Hawaiian shirt for his valedictory when he left office a year later, he accepted that water guns and the informality of a TEI beach party could inject new energy and fun into Institute activities.

Shewbridge was a lifelong sailor, and his presidency of TEI exemplified the maxim “steady as she goes.” Steady, however, does not mean staid. Thus, he moved forward on the implementation of TEI’s year-old strategic plan, and to that end he established task forces on volunteerism, advocacy, and marketing. The work of those task forces helped ensure membership growth and effective liaison and advocacy work.

Shewbridge fostered strong relations with the IRS. Under his leadership, TEI held eighteen town halls to promote the IRS’ large and midsize business division, which was created following the enactment of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act. Also related to the IRS reorganization, TEI participated in IRS meetings that led to the launch of both prefiling agreements and fast-track mediation.

There were numerous advocacy firsts during Shewbridge’s presidency. For example, TEI jointly sponsored a conference on IRS modernization with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the American Bar Association tax section. That successful collaboration led to another first—a joint technical submission on simplifying the Internal Revenue Code. TEI also championed the confidentiality of advance pricing agreements in two venues—a federal courtroom (where TEI filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by a tax publishing company) and the halls of Congress (where TEI supported an ultimately successful legislative solution).

The true highlight of Shewbridge’s presidency was his testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means (in November 1999) and the Senate Committee on Finance (the following March) on legislative proposals relating to corporate tax shelters. It was a fraught time for tax professionals and TEI. If there ever was a time for a steady-as-she-goes leader, it was then. Shewbridge’s successor as TEI president, Ray Rossi of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter, told me that he did not think Shewbridge looked forward to being a witness before Congress, but added, “He fulfilled his duty in service to TEI and did it very well!” In other words, he did not shrink from responsibility; he embraced it.

Shewbridge’s written testimony reflected the contributions of many TEI members and staff. His oral statement was more personal. After endorsing a call to avoid “immoderate rhetoric” and before offering comments on specific proposals, Shewbridge set the stage with these calm, measured words:

TEI’s perspective differs from that of other organizations represented on the panel. The Institute does not represent so-called tax shelter promoters and developers who either sell or facilitate the transactions. And we do not represent the professional advisers who opine on the legitimacy of the arrangements. Rather, we work directly for the corporations that enter into business transactions that require an analysis of their tax benefits and burdens. In other words, TEI members are in the thick of it. We along with the government have the most at stake in trying to craft a workable solution to this challenge. . . .

“I think it is unfair and inaccurate to make blanket statements about the cause and scope of the tax shelter problem. And if I might, I wish to register my particular disagreement with the comment in the ABA’s written statement that “corporate tax managers often believe they have nothing to lose by entering into an aggressive tax shelter.” Yes, there may be so-called bad actors in the tax community who promote, opine on, and otherwise facilitate or participate in aggressive transactions. I believe, however, that we must guard against overstatement.

Shewbridge was a spotter and a nurturer of talent, so it is no surprise that many of the TEI members whom he appointed to leadership positions rose not only in the Institute’s ranks but also in their companies’. Among those individuals is current TEI international president, Mitch Trager, who served as a subcommittee chair during Shewbridge’s presidency and who worked with him both as a member of the Atlanta Chapter and at the Institute level.

Following his presidency, Shewbridge remained active on the Institute Board for another couple of years and represented TEI as a member of the IRS Commissioner’s Advisory Group before he retired from BellSouth.

When I reached out to Shewbridge’s TEI colleagues for comments, the words that I heard more than any others were “gentleman” and “kind.” Mike Murphy, who led TEI’s staff as executive director during Shewbridge’s presidency, originally met him while Murphy was serving as IRS district director in Atlanta. He used those words. Murphy, who served as the IRS’ senior deputy commissioner before joining TEI, told me that he had always been impressed with Shewbridge’s professionalism and presence: “Chuck really shined before TEI members, IRS executives, and Congress. He was one cool dude.”

Murphy also recalled, as I do, that Jo was Shewbridge’s secret weapon, adding that Jo and his wife were inseparable at TEI meetings both attended. From Murphy and others, I also heard about Shewbridge and Jo’s devotion to each other and to their family and of his love of the water and golf. In addition to Jo, he is survived by his three sons—Chip, Michael, and Tony—and four grandchildren.

Cool, kind, and a gentleman. A gentle man. In today’s age of anger and contention, when disagreements often lead to demonization—on Instagram and Twitter if not in congressional testimony—it is reassuring, to me at least, to recall a person whose credo was kindness. I feel fortunate to have known and worked with Chuck Shewbridge. During his tenure with TEI, everything came together.

Timothy McCormally worked for TEI from 1982 until the end of 2012, first as the head of TEI’s legal staff and then as executive director.

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