Steven H. Gerdes, 68, public finance and tax attorney, dies

Steven Herbert Gerdes, 68, a nationally recognized tax attorney specializing in public finance, who spent more than 30 years working at Vinson & Elkins LLP in Houston, died July 30 following a brief illness.

Born in Walnut, Ill., and growing up on a farm, Gerdes later made the transition from farmer to tax attorney, acquiring clients such as cities, counties, hospitals, school districts, universities, airports and not-for-profits throughout the country. 

One of his highest distinctions was receiving an award — three times in his career — as Best Lawyers’ Houston Public Finance Lawyer of the Year in 2012, 2016 and 2018.

His work enabled many entities to finance essential infrastructure, hospitals and other projects.

“Steve was a pillar of the public finance community, especially in Texas, where he was seen as a standard setter,” Michael Bartolotta, senior managing director of public finance at HilltopSecurities, said of his colleague. 

“Issuers, bankers, and other lawyers sought his counsel and opinion,” Bartolotta said. “Steve had tremendous bandwidth in so many areas of public finance and was instrumental in many major building and financing programs for clients.”

Bartolotta described Gerdes as a “giant in the public finance community” whose influence will be felt for decades to come.

He said his colleague was “always insightful and generous with his time.”

His impressive educational career was highlighted by being named a bronze scholar in 1977 for being in the top 3% of the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in agricultural finance and accounting. He later became a certified public accountant.

During college, while working with his mentor Thomas Frey, Gerdes helped develop the accounting forms for computing the change in financial positions that were used in agricultural banking for over 25 years.

Gerdes was later honored as the “Comeback Alumnus Guest” by the Student Alumni Association of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and in 2004 received the ACES Award of Merit in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments, leadership and service.

After his undergraduate studies, Gerdes went on to Harvard Law School, after scoring in the 99th percentile on the LSAT exam and earning the best brief in the Ames-Moot Court competition.

Gerdes also became an instructor for the International Tax Program at Harvard and received the 1980 Harold Sharper Achievement Award.

After graduation, he spent more than 30 years working at Vinson & Elkins LLP in Houston, where as a young lawyer he worked on many different briefs, including drafting a brief with Marvin K. Collie, William M. Linden, and Clive Bode on a successful matter before the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Farmar v. United States. 

After retiring from Vinson & Elkins as a partner, in 2012 he joined Bracewell LLP as a partner, retiring in 2021.

Active in various professional and civic organizations, Gerdes was a fellow of the American College of Bond Counsel, a member of the National Association of Bond Lawyers, and served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Vivian L. Smith Foundation for Neurologic Research. 

Growing up on a farm, Gerdes was an avid donor to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Fair Calf Scramble Committee and Steer Auction. He also contributed to the Bureau County Cattlemen’s Association.

He remained an active member of his birthplace of Walnut, acquiring many farms and operating a successful building components company with his uncle Larry Gerdes. 

Gerdes spread his love of agriculture with young people by mentoring students and friends with their Future Farmers of America projects, and the organization’s Spring Tri-Club association that supports and mentors students’ future agricultural careers.

In 2017, for his efforts in the agricultural industry, the FFA awarded him an honorary American FFA degree at its National Convention. 

In 2022, the Spring Tri-Club honored him for his many years of support of students and their agricultural education pursuits.

Gerdes is survived by his wife, Julia Anne Gerdes; his mother, Bertie Lou Gerdes; his sister, Julie Gerdes Peterson and husband Kurt; nephews, Reid and Jake Peterson, and their families; stepsons, Chris Williams, John Williams and his wife Autumn; as well as many uncles, aunts and cousins.

A private service was previously held for the family. 

The family respectfully requests that any memorial contributions be made by emailing 

Donations will be used in support of improvements to the Village of Walnut, Illinois, and ongoing agricultural education.

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