Roberta Karmel, First Woman Named to the S.E.C., Dies at 86

Roberta Karmel, the first female member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose belief that the agency stymied legitimate business activities inspired philosophical combat with her colleagues, died on March 23 at her home in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. She was 86.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, her son Solomon Karmel said.

Ms. Karmel’s tenure on the S.E.C., from September 1977 to February 1980, came at a hinge point in thinking about the role of government in regulating the economy.

On one hand, Stanley Sporkin was the S.E.C.’s crusading chief enforcement officer, exposing corporate corruption that caused scandals as far away as Honduras, Japan and Italy.

Yet at the same time, President Jimmy Carter, who appointed Ms. Karmel, had been elected the year before on a platform of making government leaner. His policy programs included deregulating the airline industry, measures that presaged a tilt toward laissez-faire economics in the 1980s.

Ms. Karmel seemed to be in the middle. She had worked as a lawyer at the S.E.C. early in her career, but she had also gone into the private sector representing firms like Merrill Lynch, often opposing in litigation the agency she had once worked for.

Within about a year of becoming an S.E.C. commissioner, she was the subject of two profiles on the cover of The New York Times business section, cited as “the most conservative” person on the five‐member panel.

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