• Michael Rosen Michael Rosen
    • Investment Insights are written by Angeles' CIO Michael Rosen

      Michael has more than 30 years experience as an institutional portfolio manager, investment strategist, trader and academic.

    MEMENTO MORI

    Published: 04-26-2020

    The Romans had a tradition that, following a military victory, the triumphant general was paraded through the city in a four horse-drawn chariot to the adulation of the hundreds of thousands of citizens. No higher honor could be bestowed on a Roman. But riding in the same chariot, standing just behind the conquering hero, was a slave, whispering in the general’s ear, Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori! “Look behind. Remember thou art mortal. Remember you must die!” It was a message that the adoration would fade but the truth of mortality does not.

    Sally Dungan passed away two weeks ago. She was Tufts University’s chief investment officer for nearly 20 years, and a friend. I first contacted Sally about ten years ago, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis that hit the Tufts endowment hard, because I wanted to see if I could help in any way an institution that was so formative to me. Over the years, Sally and I would talk frequently, and see each other about twice a year.

    We exchanged investment ideas, but in recent years, our conversations focused more on our challenges with governance, management and mentoring, and our hopes and joys for our families. Sally loved her two boys, as you might expect, but uncommon was how much she truly cared about her team and her employer. She expressed a mother’s pride in all whom she mentored, and she sacrificed both money and political capital to make sure they were recognized.

    I last saw Sally six months ago, and there was no hint at all about the cancer that was surreptitiously growing inside her. She was excited about her plans for the investment office, and was looking forward to spending the holidays in the house she had built in Vermont.

    Her passing turns my thoughts to how I will remember her. We have already forgotten if her endowment outperformed her benchmarks, or whether she earned more or less than her peers. We remember how she touched the people in her life, her selflessness and consideration for everyone she met, her dedication to Tufts for what it represented as an institution; not because it was a formative part of her youth, as it was for me, but because she only knew how to act with integrity, compassion and purpose. Reflecting on her legacy inevitably turns into contemplating ours, and we will be no different: our relationships with our families, friends and colleagues will be all that anyone will remember.

    Her passing evokes another thought. The great Roman philosopher/general, Seneca, wrote in his Moral Letters to Lucilius, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day.” Sally’s passing reminds me how transitory, ephemeral our time is on this earth. Six months ago she was making plans for the new year, and today she’s gone. That could be any of us.

    Each day, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius would write in his diary, which was saved for posterity and comes to us as his Meditations. One entry he wrote to himself was, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Memento mori, remember death, so that we may live. I will miss her.

    Requiescat in pace

    Photo by Paul Rutherford, Courtesy: Tufts

     

    Opening Photo: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. This was a mosaic embedded in the floor of a house in Pompeii, portraying, in an allegoric and symbolic way, the philosophical theme of Hellenistic origin of the transience of life and impending death. The climax of the scene is a level with its plumb line, a tool used by bricklayers to control the leveling of constructions. The axis of the plumb line is Death (the skull), under which there is a butterfly (the soul) balancing on a wheel (Fortune). Beneath the arms of the level, opposing and perfectly balancing, are the symbols of poverty on the right (the pack-saddle, the beggar’s stick and the cloak) and of wealth on the left (the scepter, the purple and the crown).

     

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