A Grass-Roots Faith in Dignity

Wall Street stock-picker/consultant Peggy Farley finds it slightly amusing, but also somewhat humbling:

She and her father, who passed on in 1979, represent the two "cutting edges" of American society during their respective lifetimes.

Ms. Farley's father, Harry Farley, was a union leader throughout young Peggy's childhood. He was a grassroots organizer in the 1930s and eventually became president of Tile Layers No. 6 in Philadelphia.

She remembers her father as a "tall, strong" no-nonsense man who "hated injustice" and felt there was a class structure in the United States that was unfair to people without connections and wealth.

Cut ahead a generation: The union-organizer's daughter is now president of Ascent Asset Management, an investment advisory firm on 60th and Madison Avenue, in the heart of New York City, where megabucks are made.

Yet, says Farley, her father never saw her work in finance as a betrayal. Toward the end of his life, she says, he felt that the union movement had gone too far, helping to push jobs abroad to lower-wage countries.

And he retained his outrage at injustice, she says, feeling that American management took "unfair advantage of its workers."

He also championed reading, scholarship, and education: Ms. Farley, a single mother with a young daughter in grade school, went off to Barnard College in New York, earning BA and MA degrees in English and comparative literature.

She still curls up with a good book, and enjoys French literature.

"It's given me an advantage," she says. Good literature "helps you separate appearance from reality. It cuts through deception and untruth."

In the financial world, Farley says, she is called upon by clients to structure their personal resources in ways that benefit them and their families. Their investments, in turn, help the companies they invest in, and, ultimately, the nation.

They help finance companies that employ millions of workers, who can buy homes, and, in her father's tradition, live lives of dignity and put their own children through college.

Getting ahead in the world of finance has not always been easy for women, Farley admits. But here again, she credits her dad's support.

"He taught me that I should never be afraid about anything and always fight for what I believed in."

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