(Bloomberg) -- Elizabeth Bramwell, the founding manager of Gabelli & Co.’s growth mutual fund who quit to form her own asset management firm and became a beacon for women in the field, has died. She was 74.
She died on March 7 after collapsing during her weekly badminton game on New York’s Upper East Side. The cause was a blood clot.
“She had just hit the winning point, then said she wasn’t feeling well,” said Douglas Lavanture, a Bloomberg News data analyst who was her doubles partner in the Saturday morning game with the Badminton Club of the City of New York. Bramwell was taken to New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, her son, Austin Bramwell said.
Financial Planning magazine in 2007 described Bramwell as a “money management doyenne.” She worked on Wall Street for 45 years, starting in 1967 as an analyst at Morgan Guaranty Trust. In 1985, after being employed at several other firms, her Columbia Business School classmate and celebrated money manager, Mario Gabelli, invited her to join his firm.
Two years later, she took charge of a new portfolio, the Gabelli Growth Fund, which soon began outperforming the company’s main product, the Gabelli Asset Fund. In 1994, the New York Times reported that in the previous five years her $675 million portfolio returned 114 percent and ranked among the top 200 funds out of 1,400 tracked by Lipper. The Gabelli Asset Fund, managed by her boss, returned 98% during the period.
Her stardom was enhanced by the firm’s advertising that featured her image.
In 1994, Bramwell formed Bramwell Capital Management when Gabelli moved from Manhattan to Rye, N.Y., a suburb. She said she preferred to stay in the city where she had easy access to executives at companies she was evaluating as investment opportunities.
“I happen to live in New York and it’s a very efficient place,” she told the Times.
The following year, she won a National Association of Securities Dealers arbitration case with Gabelli that awarded her $850,000 in salary and other compensation, which was upheld on appeal.
She also won a Securities and Exchange Commission ruling allowing her to cite her performance record at Gabelli in prospectuses for her own funds.
In December 2005, Sentinel Asset Management, a Montpelier, Vt.-based unit of National Life, agreed to buy Bramwell Capital for an undisclosed amount. She continued to work as the New York-based head of her new firm’s large-company growth team. At the time, Sentinel had $17 billion in assets under management.
“We were really going after (Elizabeth Bramwell) and her team,” said Christian Thwaites, Sentinel’s then-chief executive officer, according to a July 2006 story in Investment News. “It was almost like a compensation package and hiring package disguised as an acquisition.”
In 2008, Financial Planning magazine cited Bramwell as among a core of female executives at Sentinel whose success helped attract other women to the firm. Bramwell shrugged off the significance of female role models, according to the publication.
“I take a gender-neutral approach,” she told the magazine. “The thing about portfolio management is it’s fairly measurable. It’s your performance against benchmarks.”
Austin Bramwell said Sunday in a telephone interview that his mother “had a bemused contempt” for feminism. “She had a great deal of impatience for women who felt they had to battle the system,” he said. “She didn’t think in those terms. She just got it done.”
She retired from Sentinel in 2012.
Bramwell was born as Thyra Elizabeth Reed on Dec. 1, 1940, in New York, her son said. Her father, Clinton Reed, was an organist and choirmaster at an Episcopal church on the Upper West Side. Her mother, the former Thyra Turnblad, was a homemaker.
After attending the Lenox School in Manhattan, Bramwell enrolled at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962, her son said. She earned an MBA at Columbia in New York in 1967.
Following her stint at Morgan Guaranty, Bramwell worked as an analyst at William D. Witter and Bankers Trust, before becoming a limited partner at Davidson Capital Management.
When her two children were young, Bramwell reduced her hours to less than a full workload for a few years.
“It’s not even the time commitment, it’s the emotional commitment,” she told Financial Planning.
Bramwell was an officer at Badminton Club of the City of New York, which she joined in the 1960s with her future husband, William Moffat Bramwell Jr. They married in 1970.
“This is both a competitive and social club and has been a big part of her family,” Lavanture said. “She was an extraordinary, fiercely intelligent woman and friend who will be sorely missed.”
In addition to her son, Bramwell’s survivors include her husband; a daughter, Hilary Bramwell; and two grandchildren.