Alumni Profile: William Cavanaugh, Pi ’72 (Syracuse)

When you meet Bill Cavanagh, expect a warm smile and good humor. At first this mild mannered and bespectacled brother comes across as another cheery suburban Dad ready with a good joke and a relaxed smile. One might not guess that behind this prosaic grin stands someone who experienced an eventful youth of the 60’s and 70’s and is now one of the most respected tax attorneys not only in New York but in the world.

Psi Upsilon began early for Bill. At his birth the doctor who delivered him was a Psi U. As he grew up, the local undertaker was a Psi U. Then when he arrived at Syracuse, one of the student volunteers helping him move in was a Psi U. In the Fall 1969 he was part of a pledge class of three. This was a tumultuous time for the country in general and for fraternities. The Pi Chapter’s president was quoted in a Diamond article: “Reports of the Pi’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” What was causing this challenge to the Greek system? As Bill recalls it, “it was a time when conformity was being replaced by nonconformity; what was happening around the country was happening on college campuses.” The Pi Chapter had a strong rebound in the Spring 1970 with a pledge class of 19. Bill says, “Eventually the Syracuse University community realized that what was going on all over campus was happening inside fraternities as well and it became more welcoming to the Greeks.” The Pi alumni also stood behind the active brotherhood. “We had a crisis in membership and the brothers of the 50’s and 60’s came out to help. Their politics may have differed from ours [the active brotherhood] but we all pulled together as loyal Psi U’s to keep the Pi Chapter strong. I’ll never forget that”. When reflecting on his college experience as a whole, Bill said “The late 60’s and early 70’s were big transition years in the country: ‘sex, drugs, rock and roll’ but also the anti-war effort, civil rights and nonconformity.” In hindsight,” he says, “it was a really good time to be in college.”

After college Bill went on to George Washington University law school, and then worked at the IRS as a tax litigator. Cavanagh then clerked for Judge Arthur L. Nims, III, a U.S. Tax Court judge, and describes it as the “best job [he’s’] ever had…though in fairness I’ve only had three jobs.” That third job was with the New York City law firm Chadbourne & Parke LLP, which eventually merged with Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, where he’s been more than 40 years. “We now have over 3,000 lawyers so it’s hard to know all of them”. Cavanagh specializes in tax law with a focus on very large domestic and cross-border transactions as well as green energy (large scale wind and solar projects). While this specialization may seem narrow, Cavanagh says that no large deal goes forward without tax lawyers playing a major role. Cavanagh currently serves as Norton Rose Fulbright’s co-head of US Tax and has received international accolades as a top US tax attorney. Cavanagh says that he gained his reputation as a well-regarded US tax expert in part through numerous speaking engagements and papers discussing complex tax issues: “I’ve worked very hard to be recognized as a leading US tax expert. It is gratifying personally and it helps my clients because opposing counsel recognizes that they are negotiating with someone whose tax judgment can be trusted.” Bill is included in the top tax lawyer lists in Chambers, the Legal 500 (2015-2022), Who’s Who Legal, Best Lawyers (1999-2022), New York Metro Super Lawyer (1996-2020), Best Lawyers in America (1999-2021), and Guide to the World’s Leading Tax Advisers, Euromoney.

With all of his professional accomplishments, Cavanagh has still found time to focus on the people he cares for. He has two children, Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, a journalist, and Kaitlyn McCormick-Cavanagh, an accountant. Bill lost his wife Carla Marino to cancer a few years ago. Bill recalls: “On what turned out to be Carla’s final night — although I didn’t know it at the time — I decided to serenade her with the “Sweetheart Song” (and then some other Psi U songs) while she was sleeping. At that moment, I felt the warm support of all my Pi brothers which helped me through that very difficult time.” Bill currently shares his life with wife Ricki Gardner. Over the years Cavanagh found time not just for work and family but also for his community. He spent twelve years on the Pelham school board. He also headed up the 100 team Pelham Rec Soccer Program for eight years. “I believe in paying it back to the community.”

Throughout these times, Psi U has remained a constant part of Cavanagh’s life. “My best friends are people who were [active] brothers at the same time I was. We have been friends through the good and the bad.” For the fiftieth anniversary of his own initiation, Cavanagh addressed the Pi Chapter’s 2019 Initiation Banquet. “I was duly impressed. It reinforced my commitment to the Pi and to Psi Upsilon,” said Cavanagh.

Cavanagh has consistently donated to the Psi Upsilon Foundation, for many years at a very high level: “Psi Upsilon was there for me in college and I’ll be forever grateful. The best way to thank our predecessors is keep their legacy going.” He added that “Many talented alumni devote a lot of time to Psi Upsilon and the local chapters. I try to do my part through contributions.” Cavanagh said that “when I was a recent graduate, I saw that a long-ago Pi alumnus, who was a very prominent New York City lawyer, made a substantial contribution each year. The fact that he still cared after so many years was an inspiration for me. I can only hope that there are others who see what I do and are inspired to give as well.”


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