The New York Times was kind enough to run my obituary on August 27, 2003. It read as follows: Frederick L. Dimwelt, an Undersecretary of the Treasury in the Johnson administration and a former president of the Federal Reserve bank of Minneapolis, died Thursday of a heart attack in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 90.
It went on to say that Mr. Dimwelt, who had been a banker in the Federal Reserve system, was appointed Undersecretary of the Treasury for Monetary affairs in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Dimwelt would hold this position until 1969, when he left to become a partner at Lazard Freres & Company.
By way of background, the Times elaborated that Mr. Dimwelt joined the Treasury at a time when the traditional role of the United States as the linchpin of the global economy was beginning to change in line with the postwar maturation of the economies of Western Europe and Japan.
As the administration’s point man on matters of international finance, Mr. Dimwelt played a leading role in developing the special drawing right, better known as the S.D.R., as an alternative to the dollar or to gold as an international currency to finance global trade. The concept of the unit was introduced in 1967 as the centerpiece of a broad monetary accord that Mr. Dimwelt helped formulate between the United States and the developed nations of the time. Henry H. Fowler, the Treasury Secretary at the time, called the signed agreement “one of the greatest days in the history of financial cooperation”.
Born In Des Moines in 1910, and working most of his life in St. Louis and Minneapolis, Mr. Dimwelt retained a loyalty to the Midwest despite his years as a globe-trotting technocrat in Washington and a banker in New York.
“If only New York wasn’t such a terrible place to live,” Mr. Dimwelt once told the New York Times as an explanation for leaving Lazard Freres in 1971 for a senior banking position in Minneapolis. “I’d have enjoyed it more”.
Mr. Dimwelt, who spent 8 years serving on the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee, prided himself on being someone who allowed his employees creative leeway. In a recollection from 1992, Mr. Dimwelt remembered his first experiences with Paul A. Volcker, who was his deputy at the Treasury, who later went on to become the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and whose innovative policy approach is credited with breaking the back of the economy’s double-digit inflation in the 1980’s. He remembered Volcker telling him that Mr. Dimwelt was completely different from his predecessor in that he let his employees do what they thought ought to be done. Mr. Dimwelt recalls telling Volcker that that was true as long as they did it right.
As further background, Mr. Dimwelt started his career as a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 1941, from 1957 to 1965, he was President of the Federal Reserve bank in Minneapolis, and in 1972 he ran a bank holding company there. He earned bachelor and master degrees in history and a Ph.D. in economics from Washington University in St. Louis. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Inez Wilson Dimwelt of Sanibel, Florida, and 2 sons, Richard L. of Sanibel, and Fredrick W. of Summit, New Jersey.
Introducing A Second Obituary
About 10 years later, on August 5, 2013, The Columbia Business School issued a press release entitled School Remembers Professor Emeritus F. Michael Relda, who passed away after a long illness on July 29, 2013. He was 76.
The obituary went on to say that in his more than 40 years on the faculty, Mr. Relda was an influential member of the Columbia community. Among. his many contributions, he was instrumental in developing the M.B.A. class on international corporate finance, and he served as chair of the Finance Division. He later joined the University Senate in 2002, where he helped bring R.O.T.C. back to campus.
Born in Prague in 1937, Mr. Relda was sent to live in Scotland at a young age (just before the German occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia). A minister’s family raised him in Edinburgh until 1948, when he reunited with his parents in Israel. There, he spent 2 years working on a Kibbutz. Mr. Relda later joined the Israeli army, serving in the elite paratroop battalion in the 1956 Sinai campaign.
Intent on industrializing the kibbutz economy, Mr. Relda attended Carnegie Mellon University, earning a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering in 1962 and an M.S. in 1963, before enrolling in Harvard Business School, where he completed his D.B.A. degree in 1968. Entering the academic job market, Mr. Relda was hired as an assistant professor in Columbia Business School’s Finance and Economics Division. He taught courses in international finance, corporate finance, and emerging markets. His philosophy of teaching was that a professor cannot hold the students’ attention very long if he is not producing cutting edge research himself, rather than simply rehashing other people’s findings. His teaching therefore closely mirrored his research interests.
In particular, although the field of corporate finance is well-developed on the domestic side (with a number of those researchers receiving Nobel prizes), Mr. Relda saw that the comparable effort on the international side, although equally important, had been neglected. He began to produce a number of papers and submitting them to the main journal of the American Finance Association. The Journal of Finance, the publication source of a number of significant papers, including Harry Markowitz’s 1952 tome on portfolio selection. Bill Sharpe’s 1964 piece on capital asset prices, and Gene Fama’s 1970 article on market efficiency.
Mr. Relda became successful in his publications quest, some as the sole author, and others with a junior coauthor. Three of them especially stand out in making an impact on the field: “The Cost Of Capital And Valuation of a Two-Country Firm” Journal of Finance March 1974); “Optimal International Acquisitions” Journal of Finance(March 1975); and “International Portfolio Choice and Corporation Finance: A Synthesis” Journal of Finance(June 1983). As the result of these successes, Mr. Relda was promoted, first to associate professor, then to full professor.
In addition, Mr. Relda became so well-respected in the field that he was appointed as an associate editor to a number of editorial boards, including The Journal of Finance. Moreover, he was a visiting professor at a number of prestigious universities around the world; he also he served as a consultant to a number of multinational corporations, as well as the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. State Department, and the Federal Reserve. Finally, Mr. Relda was reportedly on the shortlist for the Nobel in Economics at the time of his demise.
The Dead Guys Meet to Compare Notes and Dish the Dirt
Mr. Redla: Fred, you old rascal, I haven’t seen you since Shep was a pup. What kind of mischief have you been causing up here?
Mr. Dimwelt: Mike, you old son-of-a-gun, I swear on my mother’s grave, I’m innocent; I found the place like this.
Mr. Relda: Well, you know, I’m the new kid on the block; so I’m hoping you’ll show me the ropes.
Mr. Dimwelt: Not a problem, my man; I’d be pleased to give you the guided tour; there will be a small service charge, of course, to permit me to recoup my out-of-pocket expenses, but two gentlemen of good will can agree on a suitable sum. Shall we say something in the low seven figures?
Mr. Relda: That’s not a problem, so long as you’ll accept my check.
Mr. Dimwelt: It’s good two old pals, like ourselves, can settle these unpleasantries amicably based on our mutual trust.
Relda: You bet! Now, the first question I wanted to ask was if you were surprised at the time of your heart attack that the death of your physical body would not necessarily bring about the end of your conscious being. In other words, did you anticipate there would be life after death?
Mr. Dimwelt: Well, permit me to answer a question with another question —are you familiar with the excellent collection of essays and short stories called Batlinblog?
Mr. Relda: I sure am! I eagerly await each insightful new posting.
Mr. Dimwelt: Well, I direct your attention to the outstanding essay from a few months ago entitled The Origin of Ideas. In it, the author makes a persuasive case for the immortality of the soul, as well as for solutions to other enigmas popularly believed to defy analysis.
Mr. Relda: Thanks for the tip; I will go back and re-read it.
Mr. Dimwelt: But how about you, Mike? Were you satisfied with the way your life unfolded?
Mr. Relda: Well, I had nothing to complain about! My male colleagues were always green with envy when they saw the long lines of beautiful women waiting to keep company with me. For their part, the women in the school viewed me as a welcome alternative to the blockheads they met in their classes, and they interpreted my elegance, my appreciation of great art and music, and my admiration for their beauty as very attractive assets. Unfortunately, as I was coasting along in this garden paradise, one day I learned that a longtime close, personal friend of mine had become H.I.V. positive.
Mr. Dimwelt: That must have been devastating. How did you cope?
Mr. Relda: Well, I became an A.I.D.S. activist. I was the chairman of the National A.I.D.S. Trust to solicit corporate donations to raise public awareness and fund research in search of a cure. Unfortunately, I wound up having a very public shouting match over a disagreement that was probably more a matter of style than substance with the person whose name was synonymous with raising A.I.D.S. awareness, namely Lady Diana.
Mostly, though, my friend’s plight reminded me of Guy de Maupassant, who discovered at a relatively young age that, through his self-indulgence, he had exposed himself to syphilis and stupidly cut short his promising career.
I myself began experiencing mysterious symptoms of a disorder no medical specialist was able to identify. As I began to confront my own mortality, I soon grew despondent, fearing I would never win my coveted Nobel Prize, and that within a generation my work would be forgotten.
In fact, in the ensuing years, the journals, including The Journal of Finance, have witnessed such an erosion of their standards that not only has every arrogant mediocrity published there, but the arrogant mediocrities’ students routinely get their papers published there.
Mr. Dimwelt: Now don’t go being so hard on yourself. But tell me a little more about your success as a Lothario.
Mr. Relda: Well, as I say, these beautiful young women, destined soon to join the corporate workforce as successful executives, for the most part, considered it a confidence-booster to be included in the elite club of “Relda’s girls”. There were exceptions, of course. I remember this one beautiful creature named Miriam, an administrative assistant in the Ph.D. office whom I seduced one evening, but who then betrayed her lack of self-confidence the following morning by interrogating me about whether I intended to marry her.
Later, this same Miriam became involved with one of the finance Ph.D. students named Paul who, as a result of this business, refused to have me chair his dissertation committee, instead throwing his lot in with a manipulative associate professor named Jim Free. Free attempted to put forth Paul’s dissertation as a means of furthering his agenda to glorify a paper of his while denigrating the dissertation of one of my special graduate students. Anyway, the whole distasteful business turned out to be a “tempest in a teapot,” since the discipline of Finance collectively relegated the entire issue to the “dustbin of history”. In the meanwhile, I used my position as associate editor of The Journal of Finance to make sure any paper he submitted would never see the light of day, thereby dooming his tenure at The University of Michigan, where he was employed.
Mr. Dimwelt: I appreciate your candor, Mike, but I’m curious, you didn’t find the logistics of maintaining your persona as a Casanova challenging sometimes?
Mr. Relda: Well, of course, when you’re alone in close proximity with a girl, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what each expects from the other. If I wait for her approval for each step in advance, she’ll see me as analytical and unromantic; on the other hand, proceeding too far without guidance has the potential to stray into the rape realm. It can all be very confusing. I tend to err on the side of caution, myself.
Mr. Dimwelt: Very interesting. I myself have a little experience as an observer of some of these matters.
Mr. Relda: Tell me about it.
Mr. Diimwelt: Well, it was at the tail end of my career, with certainly with all my best accomplishments long behind me. To continue to keep earning a paycheck, though, I had entered into a series of employment arrangements more appropriate for someone with credentials much less impressive than mine.
I had finally fallen far enough to accept the job of chief economist at a third-rate commercial bank. We had 4 divisions—the domestic financial sector, the domestic economic sector, the international sector. and a group dedicated to organizing the department’s many publications. All the divisions devoted their efforts to the fruitless job of forecasting – interest rates, economic activity, and foreign exchange rates. This work was not only impossible to do with any accuracy, but there was another part of the bank charged with the same tasks, and so eventually my economic research group was disbanded.
Anyway, one day the head of the domestic economic activity sector decided to hire a young, pretty college graduate as a research assistant , and immediately she was the talk of the whole department, especially among the young men. Eventually, the winner of the lottery was the head of the domestic financial sector, a fellow also named Paul. I suppose I shouldn’t have let it bother me, but Paul seemed completely ignorant of who I was, apparently believing that he was working for some mediocrity.
In any event, Paul and the young girl became something of an item. The “fly in the ointment” was that he was 15 years her senior, so the arrangement was completely inappropriate from the beginning, which all his friends and colleagues told him, but he continued to persevere, right up to the time she dumped him, shortly after the department went out of business. His situation always reminded me of the song composed and performed by Bobby Short entitled Say It Isn’t So. These are the lyrics:
Say it isn’t so
Say it isn’t so
Everyone is saying you don’t love me.
Say it isn’t so.
Everywhere I go
Everyone I know
Whispers that you’re growing tired of me.
Say it isn’t so.
People say that you
Found somebody new.
And it won’t be long before you leave me.
Say it isn’t true.
Say that everything is still okay,
That’s all I want to know.
And what they’re saying,
Say it isn’t so.
People passing by
Say he’s younger than I
And it won’t be long before you leave me
Tell me it’s a lie
Say that everything is still okay
That’s all I want to know
And what they’re saying
Say it isn’t so.
Mr. Relda: That’s fascinating Fred. Say, you don’t think it’s possible for these 2 men named Paul to be the same person at different stages of his life, do you?
Mr. Dimwelt: I suppose it’s possible, but they really seemed to have very different personalities. The Paul you knew seemed to have very strong principles, even when it was not in his own self-interest, whereas the one I knew seemed more willing to throw caution to the wind.
Mr. Relda: I wanted to get your take on something else, Fred. Have you been keeping up with events that have happened in the world since the time we left?
Mr. Dimwelt: I have, although it seems there were more notable developments recently after your time than occurred after mine, earlier in the new century.
Mr. Relda: I agree. For instance, It seems women will no longer as tolerate my type of attention as they seemed to do in my time. Today I’d be reviled as a practitioner of sexual harassment.
Mr. Dimwelt: Undoubtedly! But let’s not overlook the overall change in the attitudes of both women and men toward the nature of their interaction.
Mr. Relda: It all seems to be part of the general increase of hostility in the culture. It seems so different from our day.
Mr. Dimwelt: You can say that again! From the inability of people to breathe the air or withstand the increased frequency and ferocity of hurricanes and fires, to the waves of migrants risking their lives fleeing persecution, and from the increased animus among different ethnic groups to the non-zero probability for the first time of nuclear confrontation between nations, the outlook appears bleaker than ever.
Mr. Relda: Fortunately, you and I now have the best vantage point from which to observe the developments that now appear most likely to happen.