Alice W. Handy, a pioneering leader who broke new ground and glass ceilings alike in the worlds of higher education and nonprofit investment management, died May 30 in Charlottesville. She was 75.
The outpouring from across the University of Virginia community and beyond illustrates the impact of Handy, who many credit with revolutionizing the way nonprofits invested funds for growth that enabled them to thrive far into their future.
Former UVA executive leaders and Handy’s colleagues at what became the University of Virginia Investment Management Company mourned the loss of the woman who helped develop UVA’s approach to investing, helping propel the University’s endowment from a balance of $60 million when she arrived in 1974 to some $2 billion when she departed in 2003. She was UVA’s first investment officer and served as the first president of UVIMCO, which was established to manage investments on behalf of the University.
Today, UVA’s endowment eclipses $13 billion, placing it in the highest tier among public universities, and providing financial stability and growth that supports student financial aid, professorships, construction projects, major research initiatives, and numerous other strategic priorities.
For many, this modern and enduring benefit of a professionally managed and growing nonprofit endowment can be traced back to Handy’s vision and her early and consistent advocacy to do more with institutional funds.
“The success of the investment program developed by Alice has made it possible for the University to provide financial support to programs and activities today that few public or private institutions can equal,” said Leonard Sandridge, whose long UVA career included service as executive vice president and chief operating officer from 1989 to 2011.
“She built and retained a highly competent investment team that was focused squarely on doing what was best for the University, and she led her team by example,” he added. “Alice understood the risks associated with investing and placed importance on sustainable returns that were appropriate for the University.”
Sandridge also credited Handy’s leadership and involvement for helping UVA earn a coveted “AAA” debt rating from all three major credit-rating agencies. The ratings signal UVA’s financial strength and management and help ensure UVA receives the best possible interest rates on debt used to finance major projects and initiatives. Today, it is one of only a handful of public universities with “AAA” ratings from all three services.
Though she left an indelible mark on UVA’s financial foundation, Handy was involved in many other interests and initiatives at the University and elsewhere.
She chaired the Governing Council of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and the executive board of the United Way of Greater Charlottesville. She led the Board of Trustees at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, and was a longtime supporter and council member of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. She served on the investment committees of the Smithsonian Institution and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, and was the first woman to serve as treasurer of Virginia.
Those constitute just a sample of her business, philanthropic and community engagements.
In a letter sent on behalf of the Miller Center’s current leadership to the larger Miller Center community, Director Bill Antholis described the scope and depth of Handy’s contributions to the center and the University as “impossible to capture in an email.”
“Alice was both exceptionally intelligent and deeply wise, able to read a room just as easily as she could size up a balance sheet. She focused on the Miller Center’s core strengths and encouraged us to build on them,” Antholis wrote. “Where she saw areas for improvement, she tended to them, as someone tends a garden or maintains an historic structure. She was a loyal friend, sharing advice and counsel directly, as well as empathy and encouragement.”
UVA President Emeritus John T. Casteen III agreed, describing Handy as “one of the most capable and thoughtful persons I have known.” Casteen served as president from 1990 to 2010.
“She approached the most complex and vexing problems with cool, calm intelligence, and solved them. Her solutions were always right. She had uncommon wisdom that made her advice doubly valuable,” Casteen said this week. “I remember admiring her ways of dealing with difficult people, as she sometimes had to do. She was fair and, as necessary, tough. Even when the questions were challenging, her answers were right.”
In 2004, Handy was named a recipient of an Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which recognizes two graduating students and one non-student member of the University community each year for excellence of character and service to humanity.
“All of us who had the privilege of working with Alice Handy and knowing her,” Casteen said, “are better people for those experiences with her.”
Kristina Alimard, UVIMCO’s current chief operating officer, was hired by Handy to join her team in 2003. Like others who shared memories, Alimard emphasized Handy’s personal touch, describing her as “a champion for everyone in her orbit.”
“She invested in people, and was always quick to provide advice and mentorship to colleagues at UVIMCO and beyond,” Alimard said. “The long-term, relationship-based nature of endowment investing marries well with Alice’s natural ability to form strong and lasting connections with people. Alice would put people into situations where they could excel and achieve and had faith in others, even when they didn’t have faith in themselves.”
Handy spent three decades at the University of Virginia, but in reality, it was an opening act in her remarkable professional career. Her next step would elevate her as a prominent national figure in nonprofit institutional investing.
After departing UVA, Handy founded Charlottesville-based Investure, which provides outsourced investment services for nonprofit organizations that desired to partner with proven professionals to manage their endowments and foundations. Among its clients are private institutions such as Dickinson College and the University of Denver, the Henry Luce Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In a Bloomberg article about her retirement from Investure in 2018, one of Handy’s nonprofit investment management peers said she “created a whole industry at some level.”
About a decade ago, the magazine produced by her alma mater, Connecticut College, published a profile of its widely emulated and deeply respected alumna. Aside from recounting her career success, the author asked Handy what advice she might have for individual investors at that time.
Her response seemed to offer a synopsis of her investment philosophy and personality all at once.
“We all need to keep a long-term focus,” Handy told the magazine, “be disciplined about keeping our portfolios simple and understandable, and then go along for the ride.”
Handy is survived by her husband, Peter Stoudt, and her three children, Nick, Jenny and Abby.