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Frederick L. "Rick" Ballard Jr., 72, longtime Ballard Spahr partner

He was known for his gentle good humor and community activism.

THE CHAIRMAN of Ballard Spahr, one of Philadelphia's most prominent law firms, was at a loss for words.

How to describe Rick Ballard and his impact, not only on the firm but on the community, his family, his friends and the nation?

Speaking yesterday while still stunned by Rick's death on Sunday, Mark Stewart could only say:

"I could sit here for hours and still not have the words to adequately describe Rick's importance to the firm, his achievements as a lawyer and his impact on those of us who were lucky enough to know him.

"Rick was what every lawyer should want to be: fiercely smart, caring, a gentleman."

Frederic L. "Rick" Ballard Jr., one of the nation's leading experts on tax law, whose advice was treasured by government agencies, investment banks, non-profits and others in the financial world, was 72 when he died after being treated for lung cancer. He lived in Bethesda, Md.

Rick Ballard played a pivotal role in transforming his great-grandfather's small law office, opened in 1885, to the present nationwide firm with more than 500 lawyers.

In 1978, he opened the office in Washington, D.C., the first Ballard Spahr office outside Philadelphia, and expected to leave after getting it going.

His wife, Marion, said they were in Washington for just two years, long enough to get the office up and running.

"At the end of two years," she said, "the office was doing OK, but they needed Rick to stay."

He was managing partner of the Washington office until 1995. He was chairman of the firm's public-finance department until 2000, and of the financial-planning-and-management department until 2006.

At the time of his death, he was head of Ballard Spahr's tax group and exempt-organizations group.

David L. Cohen, former Ballard Spahr chairman, said Rick was "simply one of the best tax lawyers in the country, particularly with respect to issues of tax-exempt bonds."

"Personally he was one of the most decent human beings I've ever met," said Cohen, now executive vice president of Comcast Corp. "As smart as he was, he never had the attitude that he was the smartest guy in the room.

"He had an amazing capacity to teach. He could spend hours talking about how tax and bond markets work. He had enormous patience.

"Whenever I saw him, the first question he would ask was, 'How's Rhonda [Cohen's wife], how are the boys [he has two]?' His first priority was your family, his family. He was a thoroughly decent and wonderful man."

When Rick received the Bernard P. Friel Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Finance from the National Association of Bond Lawyers, the presenter remarked:

"I believe that we all agree that Rick Ballard has done more than any other person in the history of Western civilization to educate the Treasury Department and the IRS about the law and regulations affecting tax-exempt bonds."

Rick also received the Frederick O. Kiel Distinguished Service Award from the association.

He played a leading role in the bond financings of some of the nation's largest public buildings, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Denver International Airport.

He was considered a master of translating extraordinarily complex information into understandable language. He was former vice chairman of the American Bar Association's section on state and governmental law, former director of the American College of Bond Counsel and former chairman of the American College of Tax Counsel.

Rick was a strong advocate for women, following in the footsteps of his mother, Ernesta Drinker Ballard, a leading horticulturist, founder of the Philly chapter of the National Organization for Women and co-founder of Women's Way.

Rick and his wife received the first Visionary Award from the Washington Area Women's Foundation last year for their longtime service to the organization.

"He encouraged me and all the women in his life to be everything they could be," his wife said.

Rick was a former trustee of Chestnut Hill Academy, his alma mater. He graduated from Harvard College and received his law degree from Harvard Law School.

He joined Ballard Spahr as an associate in 1966 and became a partner seven years later, following his father and grandfather, both named Frederic L. Ballard, and his great-grandfather, Ellis Ames Ballard, founder of the firm in 1885.

A tall man who cut an imposing figure, Rick was also an amateur actor and producer in a play-reading group along with his wife.

"He was known for treating everyone, from the newest associate to the highest-ranking government official, with warmth and friendliness."

"He had a way of making everyone feel comfortable," said Joe Fanone, managing partner of Ballard's Washington office.

In addition to his wife of 39 years, Rick is survived by a daughter, Annie Ballard; two stepsons, William and Robert Dunning; three sisters, Sophie Ballard Bilezikian, Ernesta Ballard and Alice Ballard; and two grandchildren.

Services: A service will be planned for later in May or in June.

Memorial donations may be made to the Washington Area Women's Foundation, 1331 H St., NW, Suite 1000, Washington, D.C., 20005; or to Samaritan Inns, Development Office, 2523 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.