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Degrees from Columbia Helped Her See the World; Now Her Bequests Give Back

Grace Frisone

As a first-generation college student, Grace Frisone '76SIPA, '77BUS earned two master’s degrees from Columbia University—in international affairs in 1976 followed by an M.B.A. in 1977. Grateful for the education that launched her career as a groundbreaking woman in the finance industry, she has provided for two-thirds of her residuary estate to go to Columbia School of International and Public Affairs and Columbia Business School. (The remaining third will go to Long Island University, where Grace earned her bachelor’s degree.)

“Columbia changed my life,” Grace states emphatically. “I would never have enjoyed the career I had without Columbia. It was partly the education I received, but it was also that Columbia’s reputation opened doors for me. With just my bachelor’s degree I would go to a job interview and they would look at my résumé and nod and then ask if I knew how to type. A few years later, when they looked down at the paper I handed them and saw two master’s degrees from Columbia, they didn’t ask that typing question any more. Back in the Stone Age when I was applying for jobs, a woman had to be fully armed. That’s what Columbia did for me.”

Paying forward the assistance she received

Grace’s bequest intentions are designated as two one-third shares of her estate, so the amounts will grow as her estate grows. She has left the funds for the general purposes of the two schools; and she knows that this way, her gifts will help students—much like she, who came from a working-class family, was helped as a student.

“I happen to be the first college graduate in my family, and I needed financial assistance,” Grace says. “I had a full scholarship to Long Island University and a graduate assistantship at Columbia. I feel I owe these schools something. They gave me a chance: They not only accepted me but made it possible for me to attend and graduate. I want other young people to have that chance.”

A desire to travel

Grace spent her early years growing up in Brooklyn, fascinated by languages. She knew from a young age that she wanted to live and work in other countries. She took Latin and French in high school and majored in French at Long Island University while also studying Spanish and Italian; for one summer she studied at the Sorbonne in France. She applied to several graduate schools and was accepted by Columbia; however, she started out at the University of Chicago studying international relations. She lasted one trimester in the Windy City.

“I was very cold and lonely in Chicago,” Grace recalls. “I came back home to New York, went to work for an ad agency for six months, and then contacted Columbia. I said, ‘Look, you’ve already accepted me, so why not let me come now.’ Fortunately, they agreed.”

Chase Bank’s first female executive in Milan

A couple years later, armed with her two master’s degrees and seeking an international experience, she was hired by Chase Manhattan Bank to be an assistant treasurer in the bank’s office in Milan, Italy—the first woman ever assigned there. She was hired away by JP Morgan and, after working in Italy for seven years, was then transferred back by JP Morgan to the States to work with big oil companies—“another field chock full of women,” she says with a sarcastic smile. She also worked with large institutions—including the Vatican, where her fluent Italian served her well. She traveled extensively in the U.S. and Europe—all the while shattering glass ceilings for women.

Eventually she moved from corporate finance to the investment side, all the while making inroads in corporate social responsibility—she launched seminars to help women with investment strategies, a true innovation 30 years ago, and advocated for diversity when hiring staff.

A focus on family and giving back

Grace left JP Morgan in 1996 to join her husband, Michael Metzger, in New Orleans, where he was an oceanographer; they had married five years earlier and had been living separately to pursue their careers. She got a job at a local New Orleans bank and then transitioned to a financial services startup company in Washington, D.C., and a hedge fund in New York before returning again to New Orleans and working for Capital One. She left in 2006 in order to care for her ailing mother and then wrote an unpublished book about the psychological impact of 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina, which she and her husband lived through and which contributed to her mother’s dementia.

“At that time, I didn’t know I was actually retiring,” Grace says, “but I did not go back to the financial world.”

Instead she became chairman of the board of the Bright Focus Foundation, which funds Alzheimer’s research. Now married for 29 years and with no children, Grace and her husband love traveling—especially throughout Europe and to Japan. Eventually, she decided to revise her estate plan and became a member of Columbia’s 1754 Society for those whose will, trust, or other planned gifts include a gift for Columbia. And she urges other alumni and friends to consider doing the same.

“Not everybody has the same situation I have; but if they went to Columbia, I think it’s likely they believe in education,” Grace says. “For me education has always been the great equalizer. Young people are our future, and they need our help to go to college. I hope that other alumni feel the same about giving back. Just look at what Columbia did for us!”

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