Kit Cole, chief financial officer of Marin, dies at 81

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

Kit Cole, a prominent Marin financial services executive, has died aged 81.

Ms Cole founded Cole Financial Group in Greenbrae in 1977. It specialized in financial 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 made up of 90% women. She also founded the Tamalpais Bank in San Rafael, leading it and managing director until 2005.

“She was an extraordinary example of the abilities that women have within themselves if they have the courage to believe in 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 go ahead and do it.

Born October 29, 1940, Ms. Cole grew up in Oakland, graduating from Golden Gate Academy in 1958 and California State University Long Beach in 1969. In 1985, she joined an MBA program at Berkeley and graduated in 1992.

First a teacher, she took a job for a better income as an assistant at a brokerage, obtained 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 in the financial world.

When she started there, “women back then needed their husband’s consent to open a brokerage account with their own money,” Kaselionis said.

Ms Cole was chief executive of Epic Bancorp until her medical incapacity in 2007, before returning in 2008 after a kidney transplant. She had been the main organizer of the company, originally named San Rafael Bancorp.

In addition, she was President Emeritus of Novato Community Bank. This bank would become Circle Bank, where she and Kaselionis were executives. It later became Umpqua Bank.

She frequently formed female-controlled investment groups, including the 1988 acquisition of $20 million Strawberry Spit.

As well as being a trailblazer for women in finance, Ms. Cole was a “great example for women in particular and a great role model in enabling and inspiring women to pursue their dreams,” Kaselionis said.

In a business that had been male-dominated for centuries, the barely over five-foot-tall financier “had men shaking in their socks,” said Jeff Tappan, one of her sons.

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

Throughout her career, Ms Cole has worked to create opportunities for those who otherwise wouldn’t have had them, Tappan said.

Although she sometimes instills fear in those who had to face her at a bargaining table, “she was just selfless, nothing she did was to further her own ego,” Tappan said.

“It was just to represent underrepresented people,” he said. “In all things – in civics and finances, in everything she has done.”

Outside of 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 Mill Valley Film Festival Board of Directors. She served as vice-chair of the Marin Women’s Commission and co-chaired the commission’s Economic Resources Committee.

Ms Cole was an “integral part” of the Mill Valley Film Festival and the non-profit organization that presents it, the California Film Institute, according to Mark Fishkin, founder and executive director.

She was “an amazing woman at all times, 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 Marin’s Women’s Hall of Fame. She “has dedicated her professional life to bringing women into financial leadership positions,” according to an announcement made at the time by 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. His daughter Kristy Tappan previously died.

A “celebration of life” honoring Ms. Cole is scheduled from 2-5 p.m. on September 29 at the San Rafael Elks Lodge, 1312 Mission Ave. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to donors’ favorite charities.

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