On April 22, 2020, our theatre community lost a vital and beloved member when Joe Kaplan lost his battle with COVID-19.
Joe’s day job was as an attorney, and an impressive one at that. In his 40-year legal career, he acted as a champion of employee’s rights. In August 1986, Joe started his professional association with Ed Passman, and in 1990, they founded the firm of Passman and Kaplan, P.C. as Founding Principals. Since then, Joe has tirelessly fought for employees and unions, including winning several precedent-setting victories for clients. He has also mentored a generation of federal employment lawyers, ensuring his passion for justice continues far into the future.
If that wasn’t enough, in 2009 Joe became a faculty member in American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs, instilling hundreds of federal executives with an understanding of constitutional law. He also taught courses in the Department of Public Administration and Policy, and the Washington College of Law.
Joe was also a widely published author in the field of federal employment law and was the principal author of all three editions of Passman and Kaplan’s Federal Employees Legal Survival Guide, as well as co-author of Litigating Federal Sector Employment and Labor Disputes. In addition, Joe was a highly sought-after lecturer on federal employment law issues, including frequent speaking engagements at numerous conferences. As a result of his extraordinary contributions to Labor and Employment law, Joe has been named as one of Washington, DC’s Top Lawyers by Washingtonian Magazine since 2013 and named a Washington DC Super Lawyer every year since 2008.
While Joe was incredibly passionate about the law and justice, he was also passionate about local theatre, and the transformative power it could have on a community and the people in it. Joe had been a presence in the local theatre community since 1993, when he began writing for Hexagon’s annual revue after his wife Ellen participated in their performance the previous year. For those of you who may not know, Hexagon is a nonprofit organization composed of people whose purpose is to create and stage an original, political, satirical, musical comedy revue each year. A key value of Hexagon is giving back to the community, so the organization uses proceeds from each year’s show to donate to a local charity.
This tenant of the organization spoke greatly to both Joe and Ellen. They worked with the group through 1998. They took a hiatus to raise and support their three beautiful and talented daughters and returned in 2007 to resume their love of theater. While Joe continued to write for Hexagon’s shows, he also took on many other roles, such as Materials Coordinator from 2012-2017 and then as the “Assistant Director for Creative Materials,” in 2018 through this year. He chaired the Membership /Social Committee in 2012 and joined the Hexagon Board of Directors in 2014 as the Beneficiary VP. More importantly, in 2009 he joined the cast and never looked back – he was a natural! And in 2015, he assumed the mantle of President, which continued to this year.
Joe was also active on and offstage with The British Players, a local community theatre who is composed of British expats and locals who are passionate about British culture and theatre. They perform multiple varied performance each year, and Joe and Ellen were beloved for their many contributions to the annual Music Halls and traditional British Pantomimes.
Joe loved cooking, New England Pizza, Abraham Lincoln, Civil War paraphernalia, and spoiling his grandchildren, who meant the world to him. Joe was a much loved husband, father, brother and grandfather; Joe had the devoted support of Ellen, his wife and best friend of almost 45 years, his three children Liza (Justin), Ashley (Danny), and Amanda (David), two grandchildren, Mallory and Gavin, as well of the love and admiration of the local legal and theatre community.
During his month-long battle with the virus, despite the recent burdens imposed by social distancing, Ellen and Joe felt the love and support communicated by family and friends through texts, e-mail, phone calls, video messages, and gifts left at their front door. The family reports that those thoughtful gestures made a big difference.
Our entire community mourns the loss of a such a great man, who gave so much to his community in the hopes of making it a better place. His legacy is one of kindness, passion, hard-work, and joy. While we will all miss his laughter and smiles, both onstage and off, we can continue his mission by helping give voice to the voiceless, and celebrating the power that the arts and theatre have to shine a light in the darkness.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, if you wish, the family suggests making a donation to Hexagon “In Memory of Joe Kaplan.” Mail to: Hexagon, c/o Kathy Meyer Jeffers, Hexagon, Inc. 5614 Connecticut Avenue NW; PMB 294; Washington, DC 20015-2604 or click here.