Brenton W. Harries, a former president and chief executive officer of Standard & Poor’s Corp., died on Dec. 26 after an extended illness. He was 82.
Mr. Harries began his career in public finance in 1955 at the Blue List Publishing Co. at the urging of an uncle who already worked at the publication, according to Mr. Harries’ son, Mark Harries. The Blue List published municipal bond prices. He became president of Blue List Publishing when Standard & Poor’s acquired the publication in 1966.
He served as Standard & Poor’s president and chief executive officer from 1973 to 1981. It was under his helm in 1974 that Standard & Poor’s chose to suspend its rating on New York City as it went into technical default and struggled to avoid financial catastrophe.
For Mr. Harries, the situation was a matter of a debt not being paid on time, his son said.
“Dad was asked to come down to Congress and explain why S&P did this move,” he said. “And the story I was told is very simple. He stood in front of the Senate committee and said: 'Gentlemen, the note was due on this date, the note was not paid. That is default. Are there any other questions?’ ”
The rating suspension prompted New York State officials to form the Municipal Assistance Corp., which saved the city from a bankruptcy filing. The now-defunct MAC sold $7 billion of debt backed by dedicated city sales taxes and stock transfer taxes. It held its final board meeting in September 2008.
After serving as president of Standard & Poor’s, Mr. Harries also held several senior positions at the rating agency’s parent company, McGraw-Hill. He retired in 1987.
“He felt his greatest accomplishment was helping to create career opportunities for people,” Mark Harries said. “To provide a good, solid work environment at S&P where people could grow, learn, and be happy and provide for their families.”
Mr. Harries was a member of the Municipal Study Group, made up of about 30 current and former public finance professionals that meet every couple of months for a Thursday lunch at Harry’s Cafe and Steak in Manhattan’s financial district. Illness prevented Mr. Harries from attending the gatherings in recent years.
Samuel Ramirez, president and CEO of Ramirez & Co., met Mr. Harries in 1965 when Ramirez first broke into the business as an intern at Stoever, Glass & Co. The two became friends professionally and socially, and both were members of the Thursday study group.
“Brent had a great sense of humor and he was always fun to be with,” Ramirez said. He was “a real human being and a good person.”
Mr. Harries was a graduate of Trinity College in Connecticut. He obtained his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Harries served in the Korean War as an officer for the U.S. Navy. After his military service, he attended Columbia University Law School.
The family will hold two memorial services. Friends and family will gather Jan. 8 at the Palms Clubhouse at 2 p.m. at Solivita in Poinciana, Fla. A second service will be held on Jan. 15 at Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, Conn.
Mr. Harries is survived by his wife, Karen Kienle-Harries, and his sons from his first marriage, Bradford, Mark, and William. He was married for 43 years to Vivian Johnson until her death in 1996.