Herbert W. Vaughan, a pioneering real estate lawyer who
helped to shape the skyline of Boston and preserve hundreds of acres of
conservation land throughout Massachusetts, died November 21, 2011 at his home
in Fox Hill Village, Westwood, Massachusetts. He was 91 years old.
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1920, Mr. Vaughan, known to his
colleagues and friends as Wiley, received his undergraduate degree in philosophy
from Harvard College in 1941. Following graduation from Harvard Law School
in 1948, he joined the Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr, now known as
WilmerHale. During his forty-seven year career at Hale and Dorr, Mr.
Vaughan developed a reputation as a dean of the Boston the real estate bar,
while helping to oversee the growth of the firm into one of the nation’s
strongest and most successful.
When he was admitted to the bar, the Custom House Tower stood as the tallest
building in Boston. Over the next few decades, a building boom radically
transformed the skyline of the City. During that time, Mr. Vaughan was the
go-to lawyer for developers and lenders involved in Boston’s most complex and
prominent projects because of his reputation for wisdom and judgment, meticulous
drafting, tenacious negotiating and consummate deal-making skills. His
involvement began when he served as co-counsel on the pivotal Prudential Center,
which converted a blighted rail yard into a vibrant and catalytic commercial
center. In order to make that project financeable, Mr. Vaughan worked
tirelessly with the Massachusetts Legislature to obtain milestone legislation to
protect lenders and investors from the unpredictability of local real estate
In addition to managing a thriving practice, Mr. Vaughan chaired Hale and
Dorr’s Real Estate Department and Executive Committee, and he served as
co-managing partner for the firm from 1976 to 1980. When Mr. Vaughan
joined Hale and Dorr in 1948, there were 32 lawyers in the firm’s sole office in
the ten-story building at 60 State Street. He spent his first year sharing
an office, seated opposite the desk of his mentor, Roger Swaim. Today,
WilmerHale has over 1,100 lawyers with offices in Boston, Washington, New York,
California and abroad. While much of the firm’s growth occurred after his
retirement, Mr. Vaughan’s leadership during his tenure helped to set the stage
for the firm’s success.
William F. Lee, who was a law partner of Mr. Vaughan’s and is Co-Managing
Partner of Wilmer Hale, remarked that “Wiley was a consummate lawyer, a wise
counselor and a great leader. He mentored and developed several
generations of outstanding real estate lawyers and always ensured that our
lawyers represented the best the profession had to offer. At the Firm, he was
our partner, our colleague but, most of all, our friend.”
Following his retirement from Hale and Dorr in 1995, Mr. Vaughan continued to
consult for clients of the firm for many years, including in the areas of
tidelands, wetlands and complex title matters, in which he was a nationally
Mr. Vaughan made lasting contributions to the practice of real estate law in
Massachusetts. Along with a handful of members of The Abstract Club, an
association of distinguished real estate attorneys of which he was Secretary and
Treasurer from 1971 from 1977 and President from 1977 to 1980, Mr. Vaughan led
the effort to enact legislation in the 1970s that reformed many archaic and
inefficient rules and standards that had plagued title to real estate. He
was also a contributing author and editor of Crocker’s Notes on Common
Forms, known to real estate practitioners as the “conveyancer’s
bible.” He frequently lectured and served as a panelist for programs
sponsored by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education—for which he established a
scholarship fund—and other legal and industry trade organizations. Mr.
Vaughan was president of the Massachusetts Conveyancers Association, the
predecessor to the Massachusetts Real Estate Bar Association, from 1963 to
1964. In 1989, he received the Association’s highest honor, the Richard B.
Johnson Award. He also held leadership positions within the Real Estate
Section of the Boston Bar Association, where he led the successful effort to
found the “Lawyer for a Day” program, which for more than a decade has assisted
almost 14,000 tenants and lower-income landlords to resolve residential disputes
in the Boston Housing Court.
Mr. Vaughan was regarded by his peers as one of the leading real estate
lawyers in the United States. He was an active member of prestigious and
important national real estate law organizations, including the American College
of Real Estate Lawyers, in which he was a Charter Member, and the American Law
Institute, which was formed to improve the law and its administration.
An avid conservationist, Mr. Vaughan had a deep love and respect for land and
was committed to preservation of our natural environment. He was a Life
Trustee and past chairman of The Trustees of Reservations, which owns title to
over 100 properties on 25,000 acres of protected land and holds conservation
restrictions on more than 200 other properties in Massachusetts. In 2004,
the Trustees awarded him The Charles Eliot Award for his leadership, service and
devotion to conservation. Commenting on Mr. Vaughan’s 31 year association
with The Trustees, Andrew Kendall, President of The Trustees, noted that “One of
Wiley’s great commitments was to expand and improve the educational programming
available to The Trustees’ audience. His efforts on this point were
transformational to the caliber of the educational experiences and opportunities
now offered at The Trustees.”
Mr. Vaughan was also a passionate scholar of government and history,
particularly the United States Constitution, which he regarded as the “greatest
practical achievement of political science.” He was a member of the Board
of Directors of the Witherspoon Institute, a private, independent think tank in
Princeton, New Jersey that supports the work of scholars interested in western
moral political thought and the principles and institutions of American
government. A Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and a member of the
James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton
University, Mr. Vaughan endowed lecture series at Princeton and at his alma
mater, Harvard Law School, to advance the understanding of the core doctrines of
American constitutionalism. The lecture series have featured prominent
scholars, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who delivered the
inaugural lecture of the Vaughan series at Harvard Law School.
Upon learning of his passing, Professor Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law
School, commented that “Wiley Vaughan’s devotion to the fundamental principles
of our legal system is outstripped only by his own example as a superb lawyer,
leader, and man of fine judgment. All lucky enough to be associated with
him—through his great firm, his law school, and other communities—now have the
tall order of carrying on his high standards of excellence and integrity.”
Mr. Vaughan was a Trustee Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of the American
Friends of New College, Oxford University, where he spent a term as a Visiting
Senior Fellow in 1985, exploring the writings of leading philosophers of law.
Oxford University honored him with the Edmund Burke Award for lifetime service
Mr. Vaughan was also a member of the Society of Fellows and the Alumni
Leadership Council of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
In his later years, Mr. Vaughan grew concerned about the bleak outlook for
the field of primary care physicians, whom he considered to be vital to the
healthcare system but sorely overworked and undervalued. To support his
goal of furthering the practice of primary care, he established a fund at
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in honor of his long-time physician, Dr. Thomas H.
The fund provides an annual award to a Brigham and Women’s physician who
provides exceptional service and compassionate care. A companion fund
helps to bring a distinguished physician to the Hospital annually to discuss
issues arising in the area of primary care.
Among his final acts, Mr. Vaughan
was moved to create a fund at Harvard Law School that will honor Dr. Lee’s
brother, William F. Lee of WilmerHale. The gift to Harvard is expected to
support the development of leadership in the legal profession.
Mr. Vaughan’s wife of over 50 years, Ann (Graustein), an artist and
sculptress, died in 2002. Among other pursuits, they shared a love for
dogs, especially West Highland Terriers. They also greatly enjoyed
boating. Mrs. Vaughan, a fishing enthusiast, would often take a rod and
reel with them on their regular Saturday excursions on the water.
A memorial service for Mr. Vaughan at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in
Wellesley, Massachusetts is planned to be held in January, 2012.