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September 21, 2021 In Remembrance

In Memory of Jonathan B. Forman

By Roberta Mann, University of Oregon School of Law and Donald Bogan, University of Oklahoma College of Law

It is with great sorrow that the ABA Tax Times notes the August 16, 2021 death of Professor Jonathan Barry Forman. Jon began his teaching career at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in 1985. He taught numerous tax law classes at OU, as well as Elder Law, and Employee Benefits Law (ERISA). At the time of his death, Jon held the Kenneth E. McAfee Centennial Chair in Law. He was a fellow and a regent of the American College of Tax Counsel, the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, and the TIAA Institute. Jon was a constant and valued presence at the ABA Tax Section meetings. He served as the Chair of the Committee on Tax Policy and Simplification from 2013 to 2015. A pension law expert, Jon was also active with the Committee on Employee Benefits, serving as Assistant Vice Chair, Employee Benefits Legislation and Litigation Subcommittee. He made countless presentations at Section meetings. Many of us will also remember him from adventures we shared outside of those meetings. Jon was always up for an adventure, whether it be an avant-garde ballet, a visit to a museum, a hike, or an air-boat ride in a Florida swamp. As one colleague wrote, “Jon had a wide-ranging and penetrating intellect, wrapped in a wonderfully low-key demeanor and a well-balanced sense of humor. It was always a pleasure to visit with him on any topic.” Another colleague noted that “Jon was truly a great teacher, scholar, and colleague, but also an amazing friend, husband, father, and grandfather.”

Jon was also a great collaborator, important to the success of both academic and Section projects. A colleague indicated that Jon “was always kind, gracious, and genuinely interested in others’ views and projects. His most distinctive characteristic in my experience was his willingness to gather like-minded folks at larger meetings to get together separately and become friends.” Roberta notes that Jon frequently wrote with co-authors, and she was fortunate to benefit from his generosity in that regard. Another co-author wrote, “Jon Forman opened doors and pushed me to pursue opportunities I never would have otherwise considered. He was as relentless in supporting my career as he was in finishing our research.”

Jon combined his love of tax with his love of travel. He taught the basic income tax class at University of San Diego for several summers. He taught Elder Law at Oxford, UK. He spent several weeks in Sydney, Australia as an ATAX fellow at the University of New South Wales. He was a visiting professor in Japan and France, as well as Utah and Colorado. He served as the professor of practice at the Office of Chief Counsel at the IRS. He gave presentations all around the world, including Germany, Poland, and Sweden. To be sure, he also enjoyed traveling for leisure with his wife, Lani, including cruising on the Danube River. As a concession to the pandemic, he had recently purchased a fully outfitted “Peace Van” for luxurious camping throughout the U.S.

Jon often escaped the summer heat of Oklahoma by mounting his motorcycle and traveling to one or more of the nation’s National Parks. During this second summer of the pandemic, Jon was on a solo motorcycle trip in the Colorado Rocky Mountains when he suffered a sudden dissection of his aorta while on a break from the road to let a summer storm pass. A passerby stopped and helped a rescue squad get Jon to the hospital where, after several weeks and multiple surgeries, he seemed to have recovered. Jon’s family was with him in Colorado, planning to take him home to Norman, Oklahoma in that new Peace Van when Jon unexpectedly succumbed to a massive brain hemorrhage.

Born May 19, 1952, Jon Forman grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1973, earned a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Iowa in 1975, a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan in 1978, and a Master’s in economics from the George Washington University in 1983. He began his professional career as a law clerk for Judge Robert J. Yock of the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C. He served as trial counsel in the Tax Division of the U.S. Justice Department from 1979-1983 and then served as tax counsel to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from 1983-1984. Jon spent the academic year 2009-2010 as Professor in Residence with the Internal Revenue Service Office of Chief Counsel.

Jon’s prolific scholarship is notable. He authored an important book, Making America Work (published in 2006 by the Urban Institute Press), at least 20 well-respected law review articles, and more than 300 other publications. He testified before the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Oklahoma Legislature.

His commitment to pro bono work and those who need help understanding the tax system was exemplary. For many years, Jon and his students offered tax assistance to Norman residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at the Norman public library. He will be fondly remembered for his passion for justice and fair administration of the law by all his students, law school friends, and professional colleagues throughout the country.

Jon is survived by his beloved wife, Lani Malysa; two children, Carmen and Neil; daughter-in-law Amy; and granddaughter, Margaret; as well as his sister and her spouse, Elaine and Jay Schwartz. Donations can be made in Jon’s memory to Food and Shelter in Norman, Oklahoma or to the TAPS program