Julia Montgomery Walsh, 80, a former Foreign Service officer who began her own Washington investment firm and became the first female member of the American Stock Exchange, died of a vascular disorder July 2 at her son's home in Rockville. She lived in Washington.
Mrs. Walsh, a prominent figure in the Washington business scene for many years, retired in 1993 after a series of strokes. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and sat on the boards of dozens of companies. She was also a member of the economic task force of the Democratic Party and an adviser to the Democratic Finance Committee.
In 1977, she came under consideration by President Jimmy Carter to be secretary of commerce. When the presidential appointment fell through, she decided to open her own brokerage firm, Julia M. Walsh & Sons. The firm, which grew to 35 employees and 4,000 accounts, prospered and reported more than $20 million in annual revenue in some years.
Her understanding of the market and ability to quickly digest facts and figures from financial statements was what led to her first job in finance. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, and graduated from Kent State University in 1945. She then did personnel work for the Foreign Service in Germany. She was forced by State Department policy to resign after her marriage to Army officer John Montgomery.
After they came to Washington to live, her husband encouraged her in the mid-1950s to get a degree in business from George Washington University. George M. Ferris, one of her teachers, recognizing her business acumen, offered her a job as a junior broker with his securities firm, Ferris & Co. Inc.
In that pre-women's liberation time, her male colleagues regarded her presence as a joke, she told The Washington Post in a 1983 interview. "The only thing it did which has hung over me my whole life was that I performed less aggressively," she said. "I accommodated the attitude that I wasn't very serious. I tried not to step on anyone's toes."
Later, however, she began to recommend the riskier but more exciting high-technology stocks that she believed would produce the most reward. She based this on her own portfolio of profitable Texas Instruments, Hewlett-Packard, Aerojet General and Reynolds Metal stock, bought with the life insurance proceeds that came to her after her husband's death in 1957.
At Ferris, she worked her way up to general partner, senior vice president and ultimately vice chairman. She kept a high public profile, leading investment seminars at community centers, teaching finance courses at Catholic University and lecturing widely to women's groups. Her clients were mainly professionals, doctors, lawyers and other business people. In the early 1960s, she was the first woman to graduate from the advanced management program at Harvard Business School.
"I like things to be harmonious, positive and constructive," she once said. "Success is to be able to do well for those who invest with you and then be recognized in the community by being invited to join the symphony board and other community activities."
Mrs. Walsh continued as a broker at her firm for a decade after it was sold for $6 million to Boston-based brokerage Tucker Anthony in the early-1980s. After her strokes, she established the Julia Montgomery Walsh Stroke Fund as a resource for medical research at Georgetown University.
Her second husband, Thomas Walsh, former vice chairman of the board of National Permanent Federal Savings and Loan, died in November after 40 years of marriage.
Survivors include four sons from her first marriage, John Montgomery of Washington, Stephen Montgomery of Rockville and Michael and Mark Montgomery, both of New York; a daughter from her second marriage, Margaret Walsh Cornog of Winnetka, Ill.; seven stepchildren, Mary Frances Walsh of Alexandria, Patrick Joseph Walsh of Annandale and Kathleen Walsh Carr, all of Washington, Thomas D. Walsh of Steamboat Springs, Colo., Joan Walsh Cassedy of Chevy Chase, Anne Walsh Walton of University Heights, Ohio, and Daniel E. Walsh of Washington; a brother; 19 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.