Michael A. Nicolais ’49 H’14 died on November 7, 2016, after a short battle with cancer. He was 91 years old.
Until six months before his death, he daily walked a mile and a half to his health club for a modest work-out, and then hopped on the subway to go the office, where he remained an active financial manager. He loved the financial markets and he loved New York City, where he was born and spent a large part of his life.
Mike Nicolais was born on Staten Island on May 30, 1925, and spent his entire youth there. He served for 33 months in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II. He fought on the German front line, including in the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Upon returning from serving his country, he attended Wagner College, earning a B.S. degree in accounting, magna cum laude, in three years.
At Wagner, he met a classmate, Margaret Christie, on a blind date. They were married in 1953.
Shortly after graduating, Nicolais joined the Clark Estates, a renowned family office where he worked for the next 42 years, serving for the last 23 years as its president. He was an excellent value investor who also, from time to time, would dip his toe into the world of venture capital. He was well known on Wall Street and served on many public and private company boards of directors.
Because of his relationship with the Clark family, he served for many years as a director of the Baseball Hall of Fame and of the Fenimore House, a museum dedicated to American writer James Fenimore Cooper. Upon retiring from the Clark Estates at the age of 65, he immediately launched his second career as a money manager, including working with legendary investor Phil Carret and at Wall Street Access until his death.
One of the great loves of his life was his alma mater, Wagner College. He and Margaret were each awarded honorary doctoral degrees because of the time and financial resources they devoted to Wagner. Mike Nicolais served as a Wagner trustee from 1976 to 1988. In 2007, the Nicolaises gave Wagner a record-setting gift of $10 million. The president’s home at Wagner is named Nicolais House, and the College’s business administration department was renamed the Nicolais School of Business in November 2016.
“Michael’s life is a testament to the very best of what America represents in its finest moments: high achievement, self-reliance, and civic responsibility, all framed around foundational values of honor, duty, and the highest of ethical standards,” said President Guarasci in his funeral eulogy. “But Michael never lived around celebrity and personal boasting. He believed achievement spoke for itself, and life was to be lived with simplicity and prudence.”
Nicolais is survived by his wife of 63 years, Margaret Christie Nicolais ’49 H’14, four children, and 10 grandchildren.