In a 2004 interview published in Harvard Law Today a year after his 50th law school reunion, M. Bernard Aidinoff was asked whether he considered the practice of law a profession or an industry.
“There is no question that the private practice of law, particularly big-firm law, is a business,” he answered. “At the same time, there is constant awareness that professional standards must be maintained. So the question is: How do you retain the independence of being a true professional? How do you retain collegiality, the camaraderie, the sense of purpose that you are doing something more than just making money?”
Mr. Aidinoff, who died of heart failure at his Manhattan home on Aug. 8 at the age of 87, was widely recognized as a “true professional,” not only by his colleagues but by the high-powered master-of-the-universe clients he advised, the young lawyers he mentored, and his fellow board members of the many organizations, including Guild Hall and the East Hampton Historical Society, that benefited from his philanthropy and his counsel.
An internationally respected tax expert, he was a former chairman of the American Bar Association’s taxation section, editor in chief of The Tax Lawyer, and on the Commissioner’s Advisory Committee of the Internal Revenue Service.
Mr. Aidinoff’s given name was Merton, but his parents, Simon and Esther Miller Aidinoff, may have been the only ones who called him that; he was known as Bernie all his life. He was born on Feb. 2, 1929, in Newport, R.I., where as a boy he delivered groceries to the resort’s grand “cottages.” He remained a member of Newport’s famous Touro Synagogue, the oldest in America, throughout his life.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, Mr. Aidinoff was a member of the Harvard Law School class of 1953 and an editor of The Harvard Law Review. He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps after he graduated, and served for two years before being appointed a law clerk to the legendary federal judge Learned Hand.
Mr. Aidinoff joined the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm in 1956, the same year he married the former Celia Spiro. They bought a house on Bluff Road in Amagansett about 10 years later. Cissie Aidinoff died in 1984; Mr. Aidinoff married Elsie Vanderbilt Newburg in 1996 and continued to vacation here until his death.
“Elsie took care of my father for 20 years,” Seth Aidinoff said. “She was there for every minute and every kind of attention one could want for one’s father.”
Mr. Aidinoff, a music lover and civil libertarian, was a longtime chairman of the board of St. Luke’s Orchestra, and a director of the Metropolitan Opera Association. He also was a board member of Human Rights First, the Foundation for a Civil Society, and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. A lifelong Democrat, he was counsel to the Clinton Legal Defense Fund during the president’s Whitewater and Lewinsky difficulties.
A funeral service, attended by about 35 members of the family, was held at the Aidinoff residence in Manhattan on Aug. 10, Senior Rabbi Joshua Davidson of Temple Emanu-el in Manhattan officiating. Several hundred people visited afterward. “Human rights people next to St. Luke’s Orchestra people next to Goldman Sachs people,” his son said. “It all came together.”
Mr. Aidinoff was cremated. His ashes will be distributed in Amagansett and in Lyme, Conn., at his wife’s family home. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Gail Scovell, also of New York and Amagansett. He also leaves four stepchildren, Michael Newburg of Lyme, Anne Newburg of Millerton, N.Y., Daniel Newburg of London, and Thomas Newburg of Berlin, as well as two sisters, Judith Aidinoff of Manhattan and Ruth Elkind of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and three grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned in the fall. Memorial contributions have been suggested for the Storefront Academy Harlem, 70 East 129 Street, New York 10035, or the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, 450 West 37th Street, Suite 502, New York 10018.