The following message was sent to the campus community from the Provost Oct. 10, 2022 – Ed.

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share the news that John E. Donaldson, Ball Professor of Law, Emeritus, passed away on Tuesday, September 20. 

Raised in Richmond, Va., Professor Donaldson received his undergraduate degree (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Richmond in 1960, his J.D. from William & Mary in 1963 and his LL.M. (tax) from Georgetown University in 1966.  That year, he joined the Law School faculty straight from the Legislation and Regulations Division of the Internal Revenue Service where he had just had a major impact on private foundation regulations. He spent the next 35 years teaching courses in tax law and trusts and estates. Professor Donaldson’s exhaustive knowledge of tax and estate law, combined with his superb gift for lucid expression, made him a master teacher; a lecturer in high demand before state, national and international professional groups; and an expert widely consulted about law reform.

Among his many honors, Professor Donaldson was the recipient of the Thomas A. Graves Teaching Award (1988), the Walter L. Williams, Jr. Teaching Award (1993), the Law School Association’s Citizen‐Lawyer Award (1997), and the Thomas Jefferson Award (2001).  “John was the ultimate teacher,” wrote Howard H. Busbee J.D. ’67, M.L.T. ’68 on the occasion of Professor Donaldson’s retirement in 2001. “He has always had a sincere interest in his students as persons as well as potential practitioners.” Not surprisingly, former Law Dean and William & Mary President Taylor Reveley considered Professor Donaldson one of the “faculty stalwarts” whose “institutional commitment and loyalty work powerfully for the common good.” Former Law Dean and William & Mary President Timothy J. Sullivan, too, noted that “John’s scholarship—obviously the product of a brilliant mind—is designed to help lawyers and judges do their work better in order that our society may be better and more just.” Jayne Barnard, James Cutler Professor of Law, Emerita, recalled Professor Donaldson’s work as “a persistent agitator” for the improvement of Virginia’s laws regarding guardianship, succession, probate, and matters related to trusts. During a testimonial, she said that “the largest single contribution that John made to legislative change in Virginia came in 1983, when he served as reporter for a VBA study that led to the introduction of several bills that collectively reformed the law of wills in the Commonwealth.”

As Assistant Vice President of William & Mary, Professor Donaldson was President Davis Paschall’s principal aide from 1968-70. From 1970-72, he served as Associate Dean of the Law School (with considerable responsibility in the areas of admissions and placement), and from 1980-95 as Director of the William and Mary Graduate Tax Program.

Professor Donaldson served as liaison to the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners for many years. He also served the VBA on the Legislative Reform Committee of the Wills, Trusts and Estates Section, completed three terms on the Virginia Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Board, was a member of the Advisory Committee to Task Force on Professionalism of the VBA, and a Fellow of the Virginia Law Foundation. In 1968, he became a consultant to the IRS, a role he played for years. Locally, Professor Donaldson served as a member of the James City County Supervisors from 1971-1979 and as its Chair from 1975 to 1979. He also lectured frequently for professional continuing education programs.

A dear friend to many current faculty members and a mentor to countless alums, Professor Donaldson devoted much of his life to improving William & Mary Law School. In the words of his Law School colleague Neal Devins, “The antithesis of a prima donna, John saw himself as a part of a larger, more important whole—someone who stood by the institution while working from the inside to push it into doing what he thought was right.”

Colleagues, students, alumni and friends honored Professor Donaldson by establishing the John E. Donaldson Law Scholarship Endowment Fund in 2001 and an endowment for the John E. Donaldson Tax Award in 2014. William & Mary Law School also formally dedicated the John E. Donaldson Classroom (Room 127) on Nov. 6, 2014. The fully refurbished, high‐tech classroom was made possible by the generosity of Randy S. Hawthorne A.B. ’67, J.D. ’70, M.L.T. ’71 and Shelby M. Hawthorne A.B. ’67, M.A.Ed. ’75, and features Professor Donaldson’s portrait hanging on the wall.

Professor Donaldson was the husband of Sue Marshall Sheldon Donaldson ’59, who passed in May 2021. He is survived by Kennon “Ken” M. Sheldon (Melanie) of Columbia, Mo.; two daughters, Keith “Kiki” Sheldon (Kevin Young) of Eugene, Or.; and Jennifer D. Hubbard (Colin) of Telluride, Co., and many grandchildren. The family will unite to place Professor Donaldson’s ashes at rest in the William & Mary Garden on campus on a yet-to-be determined date.

Donations to honor his memory may be made to the Williamsburg Contemporary Arts Center, P.O. Box 388, Williamsburg, VA 23187; or Child Development Resources, P.O. Box 280, Norge, VA 23127; or An Occasion for the Arts, P.O. Box 363, Williamsburg, VA 23187. Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Donaldson family.




Peggy Agouris


William & Mary

The Brafferton

P.O. Box 8795

Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795

(757) 221-1993 (office)

(757) 221-1510 (fax)