Bud Holman

Bud Holman, beginning in the 1980s, served as the de facto Chairman, before there was such a title, of the second oldest law firm in the country, Kelley Drye and Warren, where he continued to represent clients on behalf of the firm until his death at the age of 93 on Jan. 23, 2024.

In the decades prior to the 1980s, many white shoe New York law firms could rely on long term stable relationships with large corporate clients. Chrysler was Kelley Drye’s. Bud Holman steered Kelley Drye through those times when clients began building internal legal departments, negotiating fees, switching law firms routinely and leading top lawyers to lose allegiances as well. During those challenging times, which for Kelley Drye included the near bankruptcy of Chrysler, Mr. Holman transformed the firm into a global leader in litigation handling cases and advising clients in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Bud Holman was born in 1929 in the Bronx. His mother had been stricken with polio at the age of 5, was raised in a home for disabled children to age 18. She was told she would never marry and would never have children. She proved them incorrect on both counts twice, having two husbands and two children, of which Bud was the second. He took his first job at age 5 delivering live chickens for no pay other than hoped-for pennies or nickel tips. In high school in exchange for helping a teacher he was given the right to schedule his own classes, which he arranged back to back through 1 p.m. He kept a sandwich in his pocket, which he ate in 10 minutes on his way to work at Ligget Drugs where he had a full time job. He continued working until 11 p.m. and arriving home at midnight to eat his one sit-down meal of the day and do homework through his days at the City College of New York.

At age 18 he sent a letter inquiring about joining the U.S. Marine Corps. After not hearing back in a timely manner he joined the Naval Reserves. Bud was accepted by Yale Law School as part of the class of 1953. One day in February he received a notice that he was being called to active duty. China had entered the Korean War increasing the need for military personnel. He was able to take his second year law school final exams back to back one day in March, and passing them before shipping out, was able to gain credit for the academic year. He served aboard the USS Juneau, a cruiser designed to withstand the kamikaze attacks of World War II, patrolled the shipping lanes between Korea and Japan and following the war was stationed in Tokyo. In Japan he was responsible for delivering hand to hand messages to General MacArthur.

Following 42 months of active duty, Lieutenant Junior Grade Holman remained in the Naval Reserves until his retirement as a captain in 1983. He returned to Yale Law School upon completion of active duty, graduating fourth in his class of 1956. Mr. Holman clerked for the Honorable Judge Richard Fuld and then joined Kelley Drye in 1958, choosing Kelley Drye on the advice of his sister Charlotte, a Columbia University law librarian, who said Kelley Drye was different from the other firms. She counseled him that he would be treated more like family than an employee. His first day at Kelley Drye he was given a desk that had belonged to Thomas Dewey, the former governor of New York, and found himself sharing an office with two other lawyers. One, Doug Thompson, was in his late 50s. Mr. Thompson had suffered a stroke while an associate at Kelley Drye. He never billed a client hour again but retained his desk, his phone and his paycheck until the day he died. His sister had been correct. The partners at Kelley Drye did treat each other like family. Bud carried on that tradition, to which many at Kelley Drye can attest, and made many life-long friends.

Holman was known to be frugal, a product of his Great Depression upbringing. He once earned a large new corporate client during a flight in coach class when the passenger next to him happened to be a like-minded CEO. He delighted in calculating how many of his Chrysler economy cars (a client) could be purchased for the price of a partner’s new Mercedes (also a client and later an acquirer of Chrysler). He grew his own food, most notably a large annual blueberry harvest he picked with his children and grandchildren, and never stepped over a coin he didn’t pick up. Despite his frugality he was never frugal with his time or generosity. He gave free advice to many, settled often and early to spare clients the legal bills. He was also famous for his messy desk. One partner remarked to his son, “If a messy desk is the sign of genius then your father is perhaps the smartest man I ever met.”

Bud met his wife of 62 years, Kathleen, on the anniversary of D-Day. They met for a drink. She walked into the dining room and sat for dinner. Bud didn’t like ham and he didn’t like steak. He ordered hamsteak, the least expensive item on the menu, as he didn’t have much cash in his pocket and it was prior to the days of credit cards. He told his children often, including in his final days, he and his bride had and still have a great love affair. He is survived by his wife, two children, Dr. Wayne Holman and Jennie Holman, and four grandchildren, Summer, Sienna, Hunter and Sylvie. Dr. Holman is the founder and CEO of Ridgeback Capital, an investment company that invests in companies developing new medicines and co-founder of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, a firm that has two approved drugs for infectious diseases including Ebola and COVID-19. Jennie is a real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens.

Bud was famous in life for his perseverance. One of his favorite phrases was “water off a duck.” That was advice he often gave when others he cared for needed to put any difficulty behind them. In his 80s, he had surgeries to repair a large hernia and to remove his gallbladder. Each time he scheduled the surgery for the first case in the morning so he could attend early afternoon meetings at the office in which no one was the wiser. At 91 he fell and broke his hip on a slick kitchen floor after removing snow from his cars outside his home. The following evening after a hip replacement surgery he abruptly ended a phone call from his son while in the recovery room to rejoin an ongoing call with a client. “I have a client matter that needs to be wrapped up before year end,” he said. After two Christmases interrupted by the hip fracture and COVID, Bud spent the Christmas of 2022 with his wife, children, grandchildren and friends in NYC. He wore his 1952 issue Navy watch cap for the duration of the indoor festivities including through dinner, remarking that he never thought he would see Christmas of 2022. He hoped to see another one, he said. He passed on Jan. 23 in a home he loved with family and his most recent canine best friend by his side. He was buried by his loving family in the presence of a military honor guard near his mom and stepdad, a veteran of World War II.

This is a paid notice.