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Peter H. Vermilye

Peter Vermilye, a leading figure in Boston's financial community and a trustee at Boston University for 38 years, approached investing with an eye toward far more than making money, his friends said.

"He was very much interested in finding products and services that made the world a better place," said his longtime friend, economist Ted Lamont. "Investing was always about investing in good people and good ideas."

Mr. Vermilye, who was global chief investment officer at Citicorp from 1977 to 1984, died last Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital from complications of pneumonia and a stroke. He was 89.

Mr. Vermilye never retired and was a senior adviser at Fortis Investments in Boston. Through much of his career, he was considered a top stock picker and his advice was sought by financial firms and media outlets.

"He was all about integrity, probity, decency - all of those things we say when we say, 'Wouldn't it be nice if there was more of that around,' " said his friend Charles Ellis, author of "The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs."

Mr. Vermilye watched the nation's banking crisis with deep disappointment, according to several friends.

"He was a guy who was very proud of his profession as a financial expert . . . And I think he was disappointed to see the poor, sloppy banking conduct that had taken place," Lamont said.

Mr. Vermilye was known for a fervent belief in long-term investments and had a passion for emerging markets.

He played tennis in his younger days much the way he lived his life, according to Ellis.

Stricken with polio as a 7-year-old boy, Mr. Vermilye limped on the court, leading some opponents to target him as a weak link. But "that was a huge mistake because he was very quick," Ellis said. "He was wonderfully competitive."

Mr. Vermilye's family said he had a motto: "Pursue excellence, using your faculties to their fullest."

He had little use for small talk and enjoyed conversations about politics, history, and the economy. He mentored scores of young investment professionals and rattled some with his blunt assessments.

"For many people, he was terrifying," Ellis said.

At a celebration for Mr. Vermilye's 70th birthday, "the glitterati of the investment world" gathered at the Somerset Club in Boston to toast him, Ellis said. "The head of every major investment firm in Boston and many from New York were there."

His son Andrew said his father's sometimes gruff exterior hid a compassionate man who "wanted to challenge people to do better. He showed a softer side when he read Dr. Seuss to his granddaughters, said Andrew, who lives in Washington, D.C.

Born in New York City, Mr. Vermilye was the son of Dr. Herbert Vermilye and Elise (Hillyer).

He went to public schools in New York before earning a scholarship to the Groton School, a private boarding school in Groton. He graduated from Princeton in 1940 at age 20 and went to work in the research department of J.P. Morgan.

Mr. Vermilye met his wife, Lucy, at a house party in New York. He told his children he knew he wanted to marry her when she gave up a Saturday to help him clean his sailboat moored at Oyster Bay.

"He knew then she was a keeper," Andrew said. They were married 60 years.

At 30, Mr. Vermilye became vice president for pension investments for J.P. Morgan.

According to his family, a member of the Eisenhower administration approached him about a job with the Treasury. Mr. Vermilye felt he couldn't take the post while raising four young children but never lost his devotion to "doing good," said his daughter Dana of New York.

In 1965, he moved his family to Boston to work for State Street Bank as vice chairman of research and management and bought a home in Manchester-by-the-Sea, where he reveled in planting trees and taking his children to Red Sox games.

"He was a remarkable individual," said his friend and neighbor Fred Thorne. "He had a breadth of knowledge that was quite extraordinary."

From 1970 to 1977, Mr. Vermilye was chairman and president of Alliance Capital Management, before going to work for Citicorp and commuting to New York until the mid-1980s.

In 1985, he joined Baring America Asset Management Inc. and was chairman from 1985 until 1990. He also was senior adviser and portfolio manager there from 1986 to 1995.

During his career, Mr. Vermilye was featured twice in Institutional Investor. The magazine headlined a 1993 story about him: "Peter Vermilye's still a trendsetter at 73."

"If you were to talk to him about current politics, his eyes would light up and he would be thrilled to talk about what was going on in the world," his daughter Dana said.

As a trustee at Boston University, Mr. Vermilye chaired the university's investment committee for 35 years. With the help of his expertise, BU's endowment grew from $28 million to more than $1 billion by 2006. BU gave him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007.

He loved the theater and was chairman of the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston from 1988 to 1996. He enjoyed the plays of Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and South African playwright and novelist Athol Fugard.

Mayor Thomas Menino honored his contributions to the city by declaring May 30, 1996, as "Peter Vermilye Day."

In addition to his wife, daughter, and son, Mr. Vermilye leaves his sisters, Carole Ruhe of Santa Monica and Anne Gifford of Syracuse; another son, Peter of Somerville; daughter Mary Minott of Needham; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on April 17 at St. John's Church in Beverly Farms. Burial will be private.

 

Charitable contributions can be made in his name to Cruz Blanca
Initiative, a Princeton University student-run organization that builds
schools for poor and handicapped children in Veracruz, Mexico. Donations
can be made online at [ http://www.cbinitiative.org ]www.cbinitiative.org
or by mail to:
CBI, 3360 Frist Campus Center, Princeton, NJ 08544. Donations can also be
made to www.cityofboston.gov/parks/streettrees/memorial_tree.asp 
which will plant a tree on the streets of Boston with a commemorative
plaque.


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