05 January 2018

Baker Donelson co-founder dies

RIP Lewie Donelson 1918-2018

Lewie Donelson, who founded the firm in 1954, set out to create a full service practice with broad expertise.

Lewie Donelson, senior counsel and co-founder of Memphis law firm Baker Donelson, has died. He was 100 years old. A native Memphian, Mr Donelson founded the Memphis law firm of Donelson & Adams in 1954. His vision was to create a full-service firm with broad scale expertise. The firm is now the 55th largest law firm in the country with more than 750 lawyers and public policy advisors in 23 offices across 10 states and in Washington DC. In his practice, which focused on corporate and tax law, he formed the first professional limited liability company in Tennessee and established some of the earliest private pension and profit-sharing plans. He won one of the first family partnership tax cases, a leading case involving the taxation of cotton futures trading and hedging, an early case involving multiple corporations, and many others.

Outstanding service

'Lewie Donelson dedicated his life and career to outstanding service to the legal profession and his community,' said Ben Adams, chairman and chief executive officer of Baker Donelson. 'In a career that spanned more than 70 years, Lewie's leadership and activism had a lasting and far-reaching impact. While we're extremely saddened by his passing, we're proud to be a part of Lewie's legacy and are committed to carrying on the spirit of dedication and community that he exemplified and that is at the core of the culture and personality of Baker Donelson.'

Tennessee Republican Party

Beyond his legal career, Mr Donelson is frequently credited with helping build the Tennessee Republican Party, effectively creating a two-party system in a city that had long been held under the control of "Boss" E.H. Crump, the Democratic mayor of Memphis who controlled all of Memphis politics as well as much of the state's politics. He served on the Republican State Executive Committee from 1964 to 1974, and served as a member of the Platform Committee at the Republican Convention in 1968 and as a delegate of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention in 1971. From 1979 to 1981, he served as Commissioner of Finance and Administration under Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander. He was active in Republican campaigns from 1956 until 2006 and served as chair of many campaigns, including the 1978 re-election campaign for Senator Howard Baker.

Baker Donelson merger

In 1994, Senator Baker's law firm, Baker Worthington, would merge with Mr. Donelson's firm to form Baker Donelson. Mr Donelson authored Lewie, an informal account of his life and esteemed career in law, politics and public service, which was published in 2012. Mr Donelson is survived by his children Lewis IV, Janice and Loring, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.