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November 17, 2004

Obituary of the Week: Walter Mintz

Less quirkily interesting than most OOTW selections, I've chosen Mintz for this signal honor because of his philanthropy. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Reed College (which I attended Freshman year) and Vice Chairman of the board of the superb Manhattan Institute. He was also a pioneer in the hedge fund business and a great stock picker and equity analyst. I probably met him once at a dinner for Reed here in New York, but I'm afraid that I did not have a chance to talk to him.

For more about Mintz's life, read his obituary in today's NY Sun. Also, I found this description from his bio on the Manhattan Institute's web site very helpful in putting his life in perspective:

Walter's biography is very much an American success story. In 1938, he came to New York from Vienna, Austria with his family, settling in the Bronx. He attended and thrived in New York City's public schools, graduated from Reed College, and went on to do graduate work in economics at Columbia University. His first foray into the market was working as a journalist for Barron's Magazine. After a few years, however, he concluded that writing about investments was less interesting and challenging than actually making investment decisions, and accepted a job as a securities analyst at Shearson, Hammill & Co.-then one of the country's largest brokerage companies. At Shearson, Walter again distinguished himself, becoming Director of Research and then Executive Vice President. In 1970, he left Shearson to become a co-founder of Cumberland Associates, which for 30 years has stood for integrity and excellent investment results.

He became interested in the work of the Manhattan Institute in the late 80's out of his concern for, and sense of debt to, New York's public school system. He saw a primary stepping-stone of his own success crumbling-not from want of money but from the influence of bad ideas. His commitment to public-school reform and to the Manhattan Institute as a lever of change resulted in his becoming a Trustee, serving for the past decade as our Vice Chairman.

In a way, his life was all about ideas and facts: that research and good analysis could determine truths which could then be used to help people, either by buying low and selling high (as he did in his professional career), or by developing solid programs for reforming our public schools and other civic institutions. Sadly, this sort of clear minded vision is increasingly rare in our partisan society.

November 17, 2004 at 02:14 PM | Permalink

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