In Memoriam

The profession lost a wonderous and special guiding light in Sid Kess. I do not think he let anyone call him “Sidney” or “Mr. Kess,” as those would not reflect the incredible warmth Sid showed everyone he encountered. Glowing articles extolling Sid’s contributions to the AICPA, the NYSSCPA, the UJA of New York, and the tax profession broadly have started to appear.

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Sid was a prolific and brilliant tax technician, author, and lecturer. Sid received numerous awards and honors over his seven-plus decades of practice (think of that: 70 years of productivity!). His academic and professional accomplishments were remarkable. But the more incredible thing about Sid was, even though he was a recognized leader of the profession, he remained one of the humblest of human beings I have met. There were never airs, never arrogance, never anything but a laudable sense of service to the profession and the community. Sid set an example for all of us in so many ways.

But Sid also exhibited a rare gift that is so often absent from those who dissect tax law, author articles, or give lectures. Sid individually authored more books and articles than many of us have read in our careers. Sid lectured more times than many of us have attended seminars. But there was more: Sid’s articles and lectures were understandable and practical. Sid focused on the essence of what was important.

In reflecting back on my many interactions with Sid, there were a few key items that gave him happiness. Sid relished a new or creative idea. He lit up like a lightbulb coming up with an innovative approach for a conference, article, or meeting. Sid himself was incredibly creative, but he gleaned more excitement from sharing that creativity with others—even more so when he helped guide a colleague, especially younger colleagues working their way up the professional ladder, to join in a new or creative idea. We should all endeavor to work as hard as Sid did to stretch a hand to new and younger colleagues. Nurturing tomorrow’s leaders is what will ensure the future of the accounting and tax professions.

Sid realized great satisfaction from lending a hand to others, well beyond his professional mentoring. Sid was the ultimate networker to help anyone in need find a job. He would reach out to the vast network of colleagues sending resumes, phone numbers, or taking any steps imaginable, to help others secure a job. He did not limit his help to merely professional colleagues. Sid truly viewed every human being as precious and deserving of respect and compassion. From a server at a conference, to a door person or store clerk, Sid had a warm smile for everyone; that smile, that warmth visibly and positively affected anyone he encountered. We all face life and work pressures, so much so that taking that extra step to show kindness and interest to colleagues is sometimes tough to do. With the many pressures we all face, showing consideration for those we casually encounter can easily be missed. We should all endeavor to follow in Sid’s footsteps.

Finally, Sid cherished his beautiful family, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If Sid glowed over creating a new tax or planning idea, he was sunshine when speaking of his beloved family. Demands for billing, client pressures, and so many other challenges often make it a struggle for many of us to find the family time we should. Long before “work-life balance” was a term, Sid lived and practiced it.

I felt fortunate and blessed to have had Sid in my life—to count him as a mentor and friend. What was remarkable at Sid’s funeral was to learn of the vast number of other people that Sid had similar relationships with.

A decade ago, realizing how special and precious a relationship with Sid was, my wife and I gifted Sid a personalized menorah. A menorah, for those who might not be familiar, is the special candelabrum lit to commemorate the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Chanukah is a celebration of light; it is a celebration of triumph over tragedy. The inscription we had placed on the Menorah read something like: “To Sid Kess, who has brought light into so many lives.” Sid truly did bring light to many. The skies seem a bit dimmer without him.

I think Sid would be touched to know that, more than merely recounting his accomplishments, we will continue his legacy of compassion and caring to everyone we can; that we will make a concerted effort to mentor younger colleagues; that we will continue to enhance the profession with creative ideas, articles, and programs; that we make an effort to give a smile and kind word to everyone we encounter; and that we never lose sight of how important and precious family and time with family are.

Martin M. Shenkman, JD, CPA, PFS, AEP is an attorney at Shenkman Law in New York, N.Y.