Charles A. Bell, a San Francisco investment banker, dies at 83

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Charles Augustus Bell, 83, an influential public finance investment banker and financial advisor, has died.

Bell, who died May 12, retired from public finance after selling his San Francisco-based firm, Charles A. Bell Securities Corp., to Chapman Co. in 1999.

He maintained an interest in public finance and would stop by Backstrom McCarley Berry & Co., LLC even after he retired.

“Charles was a good mentor,” said Vincent McCarley, chief executive officer of Backstrom McCarley Berry & Co. “He would give my two partners and I pointers on how to run our firm even after he retired.”

McCarley, who joined Chapman in June 1998 as director of public finance and launched the firm's San Francisco office, negotiated Chapman's acquisition of Bell’s firm.

Bell opened his minority-owned firm in 1986 after working for 20 years in public finance. In 1997, his firm was listed No. 7 on Black Enterprise Magazine’s list of top investment companies.

“He was an old-school gentleman, who came of age in the business,” said David Brodsly, a managing director with KNN Public Finance, who first met Bell when the older man was working at Lehman Brothers.

It’s not hard to imagine the difficulties he faced when he was building his career, Brodsly said.

“He was probably the only African-American working in the various banking divisions he worked in when he started out,” Brodsly said.

Bell began his career at Bank of America where he worked in municipal research and finance for 17 years. He left there to work as vice president and head of the West Coast housing group at Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb and later at the West Coast housing group for Crocker Bank.

He studied business administration for two years at New York University before transferring to San Francisco State University where he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. He also earned a Certificate in Public Finance from the Public Institute of the Graduate School of Business Administration of the University of Michigan.

Bell was called into active military service in 1959, serving in Germany where he learned to speak German, according to his family.

Though he wore a brown fedora, Bell was considered a white hat in what was a freewheeling municipal bond industry in the late 1980s.

“He came across as someone who really cared about doing the right thing for folks and taking care of people,” said Brodsly, who met Bell when the older man's firm worked as a co-financial adviser on City of Los Angeles debt transactions.

“I was much younger than him and I really appreciated people who tried to help me learn,” Brodsly said.

Despite the contentious nature of the public finance business in the 1980s, Bell was “always a gentleman,” said Russell L. Goings III, a senior vice president at Hutchinson Shockey Erley & Co.

The competition among underwriters and financial advisors for issuer clients could be very contentious in the late 1980s before the pay-to-play restrictions were put into place, Goings said.

“Charles was an even-keeled person, who was always able to keep very calm about the selection process,” Goings said.

“He was a polite, gentle spirit, without an ounce of rancor," Brodsly said.

“He always tried do right thing by his clients,” Goings said. “Lots of folks took advantage of clients that weren’t as sophisticated, but he would go out of his way to show them what to be aware of, even if he wasn’t going to be their adviser or banker.”

Bell also prized time with his two daughters, Lydia and Sonia, and his wife, Ingerita, as well as having many non-work interests, according to the obituary penned by his daughter, Lydia Bell.

"He always remembered our birthdays and anniversaries, was at every basketball game, ballet and dance performance, piano recital, school event, and track meet in which we participated, Charles was an adventurous spirit who loved skiing, tennis, family vacations and road trips, watching and going to track & field events, basketball games with friends and family, as well as ballet, symphony, jazz and other cultural events."

Bell's service will be held June 2 at Duggan's Serra Mortuary in Daly City from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will be followed by a memorial at sea and scattering of his ashes in the San Francisco Bay. The Atlantis Memorials yacht will depart at 2:30 p.m. from the Sausalito Harbor and return by 4 pm.

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