Helen Towson Merritt, 91, one of first registered female stockbrokers in nation

March 12, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Helen Towson Merritt, one of the first registered female stockbrokers in the nation and a descendant of the brothers for whom Towson was named, died of pneumonia Monday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 91 and lived in Glen Arm.

Mrs. Merritt was accredited as a registered representative by the New York Stock Exchange in 1958.

She began her business career in the late 1920s and was working as an office manager for International Business Machines in Baltimore, earning $12 a week, when she was offered the choice of a $100 Christmas bonus or an equal amount in IBM stock.

"Because it was the Depression, she chose the money," said her daughter, Linda Bosley of Glen Arm.

"One day years later, she looked up to see what the stock would have been worth had she taken it and was shocked to learn that it would have turned into $5 million," Mrs. Bosley said, laughing.

Mrs. Merritt's first job in a brokerage was in the mid-1930s with the Baltimore firm of Mackubin, Legg & Co., where she was an administrative assistant. In 1938, she left to raise her daughter.

She returned to the business world in 1956, joining Alex. Brown & Sons' Towson office as a secretary and administrative supervisor before becoming a licensed broker. She retired in 1980.

In an Evening Sun article, Mrs. Merritt attributed her success to "having a great deal of practical experience. Vigorous studying had been a tremendous help to me."

She often said that she swapped fiction for the Wall Street Journal, assiduously reading the financial newspaper daily.

Her philosophy was simple. She once wrote to her daughter: "Life was never meant to be all beer and skittles -- and life itself doesn't matter -- only the courage we bring to it. I refuse to let anything defeat me."

Donald F. Nesbitt Jr., manager of Alex. Brown's Towson office from 1966 to 1986 and a friend of many years, described her as "very knowledgeable, well-read and loyal not only to her clients but the firm."

"She was certainly in the middle of a man's world, but she quickly became a highly respected professional in our industry," said Mr. Nesbitt, who retired last year.

In a 1968 interview with the News American, Mrs. Merritt said that most of her customers were men and that she never found any resentment from the opposite sex.

"I think that most people like to do business with the opposite sex. In general, they seem to get along better that way."

The former Helen Towson was born and raised on Lafayette Avenue in Baltimore. She was a descendant of the Towson TTC brothers -- Ezekiel, who founded an inn in 1768 at Joppa and York roads, and Nathan, a Navy captain who captured the British brig Caledonia on Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

Mrs. Merritt, who graduated from Western High School in 1924, was a bridge player and for many years was a member of the Towson Woman's Club, where she participated in amateur theatricals. She also played the piano.

In 1936, she married developer J. Todd Merritt, who died in 1989.

Services are private. The family will receive family and friends from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at 13111 Manor Road in Glen Arm.

Mrs. Merritt also is survived by a sister, Elsinor T. Roman of Baltimore; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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