Donald P. McPherson III, a retired real estate financing attorney who volunteered thousands of hours representing indigent clients, died of suspected heart failure Nov. 20 at his Roland Park home. He was 81.
Born Donald Paxton McPherson III in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Janet Russell McPherson, an attorney, and Donald Paxton McPherson Jr., a Pennsylvania state senator.
The younger Mr. McPherson was a 1959 graduate of Gilman School and earned degrees at Princeton University and Columbia University Law School. He played basketball at Gilman.
“He was the best rebounder on our team,” said Russell T. “Tim” Baker Jr., a friend and classmate. “Don always wanted to do the right thing. Always the right thing for him was to help people and organizations. It was astounding how many institutions where he was a volunteer.”
Mr. McPherson’s ancestors were among the early Scotch Irish Presbyterian settlers to live in Adams County. His great-grandfather Edward McPherson owned a Gettysburg battlefield farm. He was an ally of President Abraham Lincoln’s and an advocate for the abolition of slavery.
Mr. McPherson joined Piper & Marbury, now DLA Piper, where he practiced law for 55 years. He had a specialty in commercial real estate financing.
“He was Baltimore’s premier major real estate financing lawyer, and his heart was in helping people — primarily people who couldn’t afford a lawyer,” said Mr. Baker, the former U.S. Attorney for Maryland.
Colleagues said he mentored young associates.
“Don was respected for his sound judgment, insightful wisdom and, above all, a humble, uncluttered and pure dedication to his clients, the firm and his colleagues,” said a legal colleague, John “Jack” Machen.
In 1996, he married Ann Teaff, the head of Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. They met through a mutual friend.
He worked in Baltimore and traveled to Nashville, and they did not miss a weekend together in 16 years. He took the light rail from his office to Baltimore-Washington International and flew Southwest to Nashville.
His wife said he was an attentive family man who was home for dinner with her and his children each night and active with them on the weekends.
While a practicing attorney, Mr. McPherson devoted time to his pro bono work. He provided legal assistance for people in need through Maryland Volunteer Lawyers.
After retirement, he also joined Just Advice, a project from the University of Maryland School of Law that aims to increase justice by providing free legal advice to those without the resources to hire private attorneys.
Mr. McPherson assisted nearly 1,000 individuals and was working on a legal document for one of his Just Advice clients the evening before he died.
He was awarded the Arthur Machen Award in 1997 for his “outstanding service to Maryland Volunteer Lawyers.”
Mr. McPherson resided in one house for his adult life and served on the Roland Park Civic League and Community Foundation committees.
He provided pro bono legal assistance for the restoration of the 1904 Roland Avenue Water Tower.
“Don negotiated agreements between the city and a small nonprofit organization. There would be no restoration of that tower without Don,” said Mary Page Michel, chair of Roland Park Community Foundation.
He was also a champion of the Hillside Park initiative on the Baltimore County Club property.
He served on the board of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy and helped restore Baltimore’s Washington Monument.
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“Don was principled through and through. He was invaluable at the Conservancy. He negotiated our agreement with the City of Baltimore,” said Henry H. Hopkins, president of the Mount Vernon Conservancy.
Mr. McPherson was an advocate for the Adams County Historical Society’s new museum, is set to open next year.
He was lifelong learner and took courses through the Johns Hopkins University‘s Odyssey Program. In 1999, he was a co-founder of the Iliad program involving history, drama, literature, art history and music.
Mr. McPherson was a student of philosophy. His senior thesis at Princeton won the Dickinson Prize.
He also enjoyed swimming and ran or walked during mornings with family and friends. He also traveled widely as a bicycle enthusiast.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 17 at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, located on Park and Lafayette avenues.
Survivors include his wife, Ann Teaff, who is retired from Harpeth Hall School; a daughter, Cynthia McPherson of El Cerrito, California; a brother, Edward McPherson of Dallas; and three grandchildren. His marriage to Barbara Breslau ended in divorce. His son, David Russell McPherson, died in 2016.