Kit Cole, CFO of Marin, dies at 81

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

Kit Cole, a prominent financial services firm in Marin, has died at the age of 81.

Mrs. Cole founded the Cole Financial Group in Greenbrae in 1977. She specialized in women’s financial services and was later renamed Kit Cole Investment Advisory Services, which she ran until 2005.

Ms. Cole co-founded and chaired New Horizons Savings and Loan in San Rafael in 1981, a rarity for women at the time, and assembled a board that was 90% women. She also founded Tamalpais Bank in San Rafael and served as its managing director until 2005.

“She was an extraordinary example of the abilities that women have when they have the courage to believe in the things they want 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 go ahead and do it.”

Ms. Cole was born on October 29, 1940 and grew up in Oakland, where she graduated from Golden Gate Academy in 1958 and from California State University Long Beach in 1969.

Initially a teacher, she took a job as an assistant in a brokerage house for a better income, 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 that began promoting women in the financial world.

When she started there, “women back then needed their husbands’ approval to open a depository account with their own money,” says Kaselionis.

Ms. Cole was chief executive officer at Epic Bancorp until 2007, when she became unable to work for medical reasons and returned in 2008 after a kidney transplant. She had been the chief organizer of what was originally called the San Rafael Bancorp.

She was also Chair Emeritus of Novato Community Bank. This bank became the Circle Bank, where she and Kaselionis were executives. It later became Umpqua Bank.

She frequently founded female-controlled investment groups, including during the 1988 acquisition of the Strawberry Spit, a $20 million company.

Aside from being a pioneer for women in finance, Ms. Cole was a “great example for women in particular and a great role model for enabling and inspiring women to just follow their dreams,” Kaselionis said.

In a business that has been male-dominated for centuries, the financier, barely over 5 feet tall, “had grown men shaking in their socks,” said Jeff Tappan, one of her sons.

She gave seminars to women on financial education and “converted that into a finance practice,” Tappan said.

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

Although she occasionally inspired fear in those who faced her at a negotiating table, “She was just selfless, nothing she did was encourage her own ego,” Tappan said.

“It was just to represent the people who were underrepresented,” he said. “In all things – in civic and financial matters, in everything she has done.”

Outside of work, Ms. Cole founded the Wednesday Morning Dialog and the Marin Forum, directed Girl Scouts for 17 years, and served on the Bay Area Girl Scouts Council, the United Way, and the Mill Valley Film Festival Board of Directors. She was Vice-Chair of the Marin Women’s Commission and Co-Chair of 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 CEO.

She was “an incredible woman at all times, but especially for her time in business and finance,” Fishkin said. “She has trodden many paths and paved the way for many women.”

In 1997, Ms. Cole was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame. She “committed her professional life to bringing women into leadership positions in finance,” according to a statement from the YWCA, which oversees the Hall of Fame, at the time.

Mrs. 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 had previously died.

A “Celebration of Life” honoring Ms. Cole is scheduled for September 29 from 2-5 p.m. at the San Rafael Elks Lodge, 1312 Mission Ave. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to donors’ preferred charities.

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