In the space of a single week in June 1943, Dave L. Cornfeld received his undergraduate and law degrees from Washington University, married his chemistry lab partner and joined the law firm where he would remain for 71 years.
It was the beginning of a very full life, nearly all of it in St. Louis – a life that concluded here on Wednesday, April 22. He was 98 years old.
During that eventful week in ’43, Mr. Cornfeld was just 21. But he was already accustomed to accomplishment. He was, after all, only 15 when he graduated from Soldan High School and entered college.
Even at that time, when academic advancement for high-achieving students was relatively common, he was almost always the youngest student in any class. So it’s fun to imagine his surprise when his lab partner turned out to be Martha Herrmann, a St. Louis girl whose own history of double-promotions meant that she was as young, and as fine a student, as he was.
Mr. Cornfeld excelled in law school, becoming the editor of its law quarterly and a member of Order of the Coif. In the post-war era, he served in the U.S. Army, then returned to his firm, known today as Husch Blackwell LLP.
There, he became a name partner as he made a national reputation as an expert in tax law. Among his many positions and honors, Mr. Cornfeld was a life member of the American Law Institute, a founding member and regent of the American College of Tax Counsel, and vice chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Taxation. He taught in the graduate tax program at Washington University’s law school and at the University of Miami’s Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning.
Widely published on tax law, Mr. Cornfeld was a much sought-after lecturer around the country. In 2006, Washington University presented him with its Distinguished Law Alumni Award, and in 2017 he was inducted into the Estate Planning Hall of Fame.
“He was the most brilliant, and the most unassuming, lawyer I have ever known,” said Maury Poscover, who spent his career at the same firm. “He never lorded it over you.
“Years ago, I went to a meeting of the American Law Institute. Before I left, he told me to find Marty Ginsburg (husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and tell him that he was the best tax lawyer in the country.
“But Marty said, ‘No. You go back and tell Dave that HE is.’
“Dave was one of my mentors. In the firm, he was considered the brightest of the group. And one of the nicest human beings I ever met. He reveled in his family.”
Mr. Cornfeld and his wife, who had been married for 68 years when she died in 2011, were also active in the wider community, particularly in United Hebrew Congregation.
He was a member of its board for 24 years, serving variously as treasurer, vice president and legal counsel. He also spent many years on the board of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and was general counsel to the St. Louis Community Foundation, a century-old organization that promotes local charitable giving.
But his family was the center of his life, said Cornfeld’s longtime friend and colleague, lawyer Shulamith Simon.
Dave and Martha Cornfeld “regularly went to Israel, where one of their sons lives,” Simon said. “Sometimes, when I was there with my family, they would take us to dinner. They had such a good relationship, such a good marriage. And Dave – Dave was one of a kind.
“They don’t make them like that any more.”
Mr. Cornfeld is survived by three sons: Rick (Marcy) of St. Louis, Jim (Jann Fowler-Cornfeld) of St. Louis and Yosef (Ellen) of Jerusalem, as well as 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.