Robert Allen Davis Jr., tax attorney and musician, dies

Robert Allen Davis, Jr., a tax attorney, a talented musician with perfect pitch and a man who searched for opportunities to help friends, neighbors and colleagues, died suddenly of arrhythmia May 18 after playing the organ during the evening Mass at a Crofton church.

He was 68 and lived in Davidsonville.


Mr. Davis’ enthusiasms ranged from music (particularly Gregorian chants) to financial systems (he specialized in mortgage-backed tax securities) to education (he continued to play concerts at his daughters’ elementary school long after they graduated) to his Roman Catholic faith. He volunteered as counsel for the Aerospace States Association, a group that develops aerospace and aviation policy.

Linking those interests was Mr. Davis’ almost intuitive understanding of the structures that lie beneath everything from musical compositions to the U.S. tax code to the workings of the Catholic Church.

“Most people who go to Mass don’t really understand what’s happening with the music,” said his wife of 26 years, Liza Davis. “They sing the hymns and then they leave. But Catholic liturgical music is 2,000 years of history and revisions that have occurred since the time of Jesus. Bob knew which hymns were appropriate for each Mass, which were the appropriate response songs and what cycle we were on for the church year.”

About the only pursuits her husband didn’t enjoy, she said, were talking about himself, spending money on himself or taking himself too seriously.

“I found that Bob’s musical background was very helpful in his legal practice in that it sharpened his intellectual skills and his ability to manage diverse ideas,” said Charles Adelman, a friend of Mr. Davis’ for the past 28 years and his former partner in the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. “I see a link between the structure and logic of music and the intellectual demands that our tax practice required. He was instrumental to the firm’s success.”

Mr. Davis was born in 1950 and grew up in Upper Darby, Pa. His musical gifts emerged at age 6, when he sat down at a piano in his elementary school and played a song from memory — without ever having had a single music lesson.

Music was the cornerstone of Mr. Davis’ life from then on.

He graduated from Philadelphia’s Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in music education in 1972 and (after a four-year stint teaching music in Maine) with a master’s degree in liturgical music in 1978.

Liza Davis said her husband eventually realized that it would be difficult to find a full-time job as a musician that would also pay the bills.

In 1980, he went to work for what was then the National Learning Center (now the National Children’s Museum) as the organization’s comptroller and several years later, took the Law School Admission Test. He scored so high he was admitted to Stanford Law School, graduating in 1991. Four years later, he earned a Master of Laws degree from New York University.

Mr. Davis joined Cadwalader’s New York office in 1991 and quickly became an expert in a field of law so specialized that, Adelman said, at the time no more than a dozen attorneys nationwide in the U.S. were focused on it. He moved to the firm’s Washington office four years later. In April, 2018, he joined the Washington law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP as special counsel.

In 1993, the then-43-year-old bachelor was working as a substitute organist at the Fordham University Church. Frequently, he and a pretty young cantor two decades his junior were being hired to work the same weddings. Sometimes they’d go out for dinner afterwords.

“Bob fell hard for Liza,” Mr. Adelman said. “He was completely enamored of her. She was his soul mate.”

The couple married in 1996 and had three daughters: Emily and Felicity, who are 19, and 15-year-old Sophie.


But not even a career that kept him busy for roughly 100 hours a week and a growing family could halt Mr. Davis’ volunteer activities. (Among other things, he co-founded The Musical Theater Center with Richard Hartzell in Washington in 1984.) At the time of his death, Mr. Davis was playing the organ for one church on Saturday nights, and for another on Sunday mornings.

“He died right after playing the organ at church beneath two huge stained glass windows,” Liza said. “It was a beautiful, breezy, sunny day. The last hymn he played was “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love” [by Peter Scholtes]. I can’t imagine a more perfect last hour for him.”

Visitation for Mr. Davis will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Hardesty Funeral Home, 851 Annapolis Red., Gambrills. A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Our Lady of the Fields Catholic Church, 1070 Cecil Ave, Millersville, with burial to follow in the church cemetery.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Davis is survived by two sisters: Marie Romano of Tallahassee, Florida and Sue Christen of Mullica Hill, New Jersey and a brother, Harry Davis of Broomall, Pennsylvania.