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Former Trustee Peter Vermilye Dies at 89

Leading figure in Boston’s financial scene, built BU’s endowment

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The BU community has lost a passionate, dedicated friend with the passing of Peter H. Vermilye.

For more than three decades the New York-born, Princeton-educated, Yankee-turned-Red Sox fan helped steer BU’s investment portfolio, first as trustee, beginning in 1969, and then as chairman of the Board of Trustees investment committee, growing the University’s endowment from about $28 million to over $1 billion. 

Vermilye (Hon.’07) died March 9 of complications from pneumonia and a stroke. He was 89. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, two sons, two sisters, and seven grandchildren.

In more than 60 years as an investment manager, Vemilye leveraged his considerable stock-picking skills and international market contacts to BU’s benefit — always, colleagues say, with keen ethical concern. “Pursue excellence, using your faculties to their fullest” was his motto.

“What is amazing about Peter is he actually almost single-handedly ran the endowment from 1971 to about 2006,” says Robert Knox (CAS’74, GSM’75), chairman of the Board of Trustees. “What’s unusual about that is most large universities have endowments run by professional investment staffs. He ran it with a committee, but was the main decision maker. And he had a unique relationship with some of the best money managers around the world.”

“Over the course of nearly four decades of service on our Board, Peter Vermilye played an extraordinarily effective role in furthering the well-being of Boston University,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “He possessed exceptional skills and also a deep sense of responsibility to those whose resources he managed. The financial growth he charted has enabled us to be a much stronger institution.”

Brown says that Vermilye also generously mentored BU’s senior staff, so his style of principled investment management will endure. “Those of us who worked with Peter have lost a friend,” Brown adds, “and the nation has lost an example of what an investment manager should be.”

Longtime trustee Dexter Dodge (SMG’56), now a member of the Board of Overseers, says that Vermilye had a keen, facile mind and was always exploring innovative investment ideas in an international environment. “He was a genuinely wonderful colleague and close friend,” Dodge says. “The BU community will miss him, even those who didn’t know him, because of his profound impact on the institution.”

Vermilye loved theater and was chairman of the board of trustees  of the Huntington Theatre Company, in residence at BU, from 1988 to 1996, and chairman emeritus until he died. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) honored his contributions to the city when he named May 30, 1996, “Peter Vermilye Day.”

Andrew Vermilye says his father’s sometimes-gruff exterior hid compassion. And asked why this New York Ivy Leaguer took such a passionate interest in BU, his daughter Dana says that her father had great respect for those who didn’t have things handed to them on a silver platter.

“He thought BU was like that, working very hard to grow. It didn’t have an elitist feeling, but a sense of growth and excitement,” she says. “BU was a school that was going places, with the excitement of becoming one of the top schools in the country. He loved the University.”

Dick Taffe can be reached at rtaffe@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Former Trustee Peter Vermilye Dies at 89

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2009 at 9:58 am

    Gratitude and sincere condolences to his family. Someone should write more about him; he was an interesting person.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2009 at 10:57 am

    I wish Mr. Vermilye rest in peace, and God would reward him much more than what he had done for community, especially BU. Other ‘Vermilyes’ are looked for, so that BU may become much stronger than it is today!

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