America’s Oldest Director Quits at 96 to Focus on Tax Law

Mortimer Caplin, who is stepping down from the board of Danaher Corp. at age 96, said the departure will allow him to spend more time on two of his passions: tax law and the University of Virginia.

“I’m still practicing law, and our firm is very heavily involved in the tax world,” Caplin said today in a phone interview. “I swim every day and I’m at the office every day.”

The attorney will resign in May as a director at Danaher, after serving on the board since 1990, the Washington-based provider of measuring and diagnostic equipment said yesterday in a filing. Caplin was identified in a 2011 Bloomberg News article on corporate directors as the oldest at a company in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Caplin is 11 years older than Pope Benedict XVI, who said yesterday he is stepping down because he no longer has the strength to lead the world’s Catholics. Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive officer of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., is 82.

“I haven’t regarded age as a real factor,” Caplin said. “It’s a question of capability and I suppose willingness at the same time.”

Caplin was appointed commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in 1961 by then-President John F. Kennedy after previously teaching law at the University of Virginia, where Robert F. Kennedy and Edward Kennedy were among his students.

“I had a good start up in meeting their brother along the way,” Caplin said by phone. “I think that was an important factor” in being appointed IRS commissioner.

Navy Veteran

Caplin received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1937 and a law degree from the institution in 1940. He also received a doctor of juridical science degree from New York University. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he served as a beachmaster in the Normandy invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, according to a biography on his law firm’s website.

Caplin founded Caplin & Drysdale after leaving the IRS. The law firm has offices in Washington and New York and provides tax advice to corporate and individual clients.

He’s involved in performing arts and public policy at the University of Virginia, including an annual conference on the global economy that bears his name. Caplin said he plans to devote more time to the gathering and a campus theater named after his wife, Ruth Caplin.

Caplin said he swims at his home in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland.