Kit Cole, Marin financial executive, dies at 81


Kit Cole, photographed in 2007 at home in Mill Valley. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

Kit Cole, a prominent financial services executive in Marin, has died at age 81.

Ms. Cole began Cole Financial Group in Greenbrae in 1977. It specialized in finance services for women and was later renamed Kit Cole Investment Advisory Services, which she ran until 2005.

Ms. Cole co-founded New Horizons Savings and Loan in 1981 in San Rafael and chaired its board of directors, a rarity for women at the time, and assembled a board of directors that was 90% women. She also founded Tamalpais Bank in San Rafael, running it as well as chief executive until 2005.

“She was an extraordinary example of the capabilities women have in themselves if they have courage to believe in the things in the things they wanted to do,” said her daughter, Kim Kaselionis. “She was the epitome of a glass-ceiling breaker. If she thought it was the right thing to do, she would just forge ahead and do it.”

Born Oct. 29, 1940, Ms. Cole grew up in Oakland, graduating Golden Gate Academy in 1958 and California State University Long Beach in 1969. In 1985 she joined a master’s in business administration program at Berkeley and attained a degree in 1992.

At first a teacher, she took a job for a better income as an assistant in a brokerage house, earned her broker’s license and in 1970 was selected as one of five women for a pilot program at Dean Witter in San Rafael beginning to promote women into the finance world.

When she started there, “women at that time needed their husbands’ consent to open a brokerage account with their own money,” Kaselionis said.

Ms. Cole was chief executive officer at Epic Bancorp until she went on medical disability in 2007, returning in 2008 after a kidney transplant. She had been the main organizer for the firm, originally named San Rafael Bancorp.

In addition she was chairwoman emeritus at Novato Community Bank. That bank would become Circle Bank, where she and Kaselionis were executives. It later became Umpqua Bank.

She frequently formed investment groups controlled by women, including during the 1988 acquisition of the Strawberry Spit, a $20 million endeavor.

Besides being a pioneer for women in the finance industry, Ms. Cole was a “great example for women in particular and a great role model to enable and inspire women to just go after their dreams,” Kaselionis said.

In a business that had been dominated by men for centuries, the barely-over-5-foot financier had “grown men shake in their socks,” said Jeff Tappan, one of her sons.

She gave seminars to women on financial literacy, and “parlayed that into a financial practice,” Tappan said.

Throughout her career, Ms. Cole made a point of making opportunities for those who otherwise would not have had them, Tappan said.

Despite occasionally inspiring fear in those who had to face her just self negotiating table, “she was without, nothing that she did was to advance her own ego,” Tappan said.

“It was just to represent the people who were underrepresented,” he said. “In all things — in civics and financial matters, in everything she did.”

Outside her professional life, Ms. Cole founded Wednesday Morning Dialog and Marin Forum, led Girl Scouts for 17 years and served on the Bay Area Girl Scouts Council, United Way and the board of the Mill Valley Film Festival. She was vice chair of the Marin Women’s Commission and co-chaired the commission’s economic resource committee.

Ms. Cole was “integral” to the Mill Valley Film Festival and the nonprofit that presents it, the California Film Institute, according to Mark Fishkin, founder and executive director.

She was “an incredible woman for any time, but especially for her time in business and the world of finance,” Fishkin said. “She broke a lot of ground and paved the way for a lot of women.”

In 1997, Ms. Cole was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame. She “dedicated her professional life to bringing women into leadership roles in the financial field,” according to an announcement at the team from the YWCA, which oversees the hall of fame.

Ms. Cole died in her sleep on June 20. She is survived by her brother Stephen Margossian; five children, Kimberly Kaselionis, Jeffery Tappan, Alan Tappan, Jamison Tappan and Luke Cole; six grandchildren; and three great grandchildren. Her daughter Kristy Tappan died previously.

The “celebration of life” in Ms. Cole’s honor is planned for 2 to 5 pm Sept. 29 at the San Rafael Elks Lodge, 1312 Mission Ave. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to donors’ favorite charities.

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