W. Gibbs McKenney, 90, attorney specializing in tax, estate, trust law

W. Gibbs McKenney, a Baltimore attorney who specialized in taxes and trusts, died Wednesday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center from complications of diabetes. He was 90 and lived in Brightwood Retirement Community in Lutherville.

Born in Jacobsville in Anne Arundel County, Mr. McKenney was the son of a Methodist minister who was often on the move. After living for a time in Parkton, Mr. McKenney moved to Solomons Island, where he attended high school. His graduating class had seven students.


Unable to afford college, he spent five years earning money for tuition. His jobs included delivering oysters from Solomons to Baltimore and Washington and fixing watches, a skill he learned from an elderly Parkton watchmaker.

In 1935 Mr. McKenney enrolled at Williamsport Dickinson Seminary, now Lycoming College, in Pennsylvania. He initially intended to become a minister like his father, but soon abandoned that plan.


"He decided he wanted to serve people in a 'terrestrial way' instead of a 'celestial way,' as he liked to put it," his daughter, Lynden Burke of Timonium, said.

So he entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where he graduated in 1939, and then earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1942.

After graduation he spent four years in the Naval Reserve, attaining the rank of lieutenant before leaving in 1946 to enter private practice.

For five decades, until 1996, Mr. McKenney worked at the Lutherville firm known at the time of his retirement as McKenney, Thomsen and Burke. His specialty was tax, estate and trust law, said Byron Hertslet, a former partner at the firm and a friend of Mr. McKenney's for more than 30 years.

As part of his job, Mr. McKenney routinely met with Internal Revenue Service agents to discuss his clients' tax bills. Mr. Hertslet said his friend enjoyed the intellectual challenge of these encounters, taking pleasure in every penny he was able to keep for his clients.

"When they came, it was like facing off in a boxing ring," says Mr. Hertslet, who was often present at these meetings. IRS agents, he said, would sometimes leave looking frazzled. "He knew the law inside and out."

While he was known for his sense of humor, Mr. McKenney had few hobbies and avoided golf and other common lawyerly leisure pursuits, which he felt took up too much time. "Work was his hobby," Mr. Hertslet said.

When he wasn't taking care of clients, he was busy participating in board meetings and serving as a trustee for various schools and institutions, including Lycoming College, Dickinson College, Goucher College, Loyola College, and Franklin Square Hospital Center.


After he retired from his firm, he opened a small office in Towson so he could continue to oversee the estates of a few remaining longtime clients, many of them widows. Myrle Shaver, Mr. McKenney's secretary for 23 years, said her former boss was working on cases two days before his death. "He was good at what he did," she said.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. today at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. McKenney is survived by three grandchildren. His wife, the former Florence Rea, died in 1993.