Joseph A. Dear, the politically savvy chief of staff to Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who later served as executive director of the Washington State Investment Board, died from prostate cancer Wednesday in Sacramento. He was 62.
Mr. Dear won worldwide recognition as chief investment officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), when he was able to restore it to health after the financial crisis. He held that position from 2009 until his death, though he had been on a leave of absence intermittently since May.
“He was a metrics guy, a straight shooter. He was very dedicated to whatever he was doing,” said Marty Brown, who served with Mr. Dear in the Locke administration as legislative director and deputy chief of staff with Mr. Dear.
“Luckily he lived like three blocks away. I think he worked 18 hours a day. He was totally dedicated to it,” said Brown, now the executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
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Mr. Dear’s role in California — given CalPERS’ standing as the nation’s largest public-pension fund — made him a worldwide figure in the investment business, and his comments about market trends and economic issues were widely reported. The scrutiny was intensified by timing; he arrived at CalPERS as the pension fund was still reeling from the impact of the market crash.
“Joe’s one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever worked with, and I’ll miss him,” said Anne Stausboll, CalPERS chief executive, in a statement released by the pension fund. “CalPERS is a stronger organization, and all of us are better people for having known and worked with him.”
Overseeing the investments of CalPERS, Mr. Dear embraced a risky investment philosophy that proved successful in restoring the pension fund’s assets to above their level before the economic crisis.
CalPERS’ investments were worth $283.5 billion on the day Mr. Dear died, having more than recouped all their recessionary losses.
Mr. Dear also helped CalPERS weather a pay-to-play scandal that emerged during his first year on the job. In the wake of the controversy, which involved fees paid to the middlemen that connect pension funds with money managers, CalPERS adopted new policies to improve disclosure.
Mr. Dear became a powerful figure in the world of Wall Street money management, negotiating lower fees from the private equity firms that wanted his business.
A longtime government employee, Mr. Dear ran the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 1993 to 1997 under President Clinton.
He also had worked for Frank Russell Co. — now Russell Investments — an investment firm now based in Seattle, and he once served as research director for the Washington State Labor Council (AFL-CIO).
Joseph Albert Dear was born on June 7, 1951, in Washington, D.C., and graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia with a degree in political economy.
At the time of his death, he lived in Sacramento.
In 2012, Mr. Dear became part of a pension-industry power couple when he married Anne Sheehan, director of corporate governance for the second-biggest public pension, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.
He had two children, Annie and Ben, with his first wife, Leslie Owen.
Details on services are pending, but CalPERS said services will be held in both Sacramento and Olympia.
Mr. Dear’s family asked that donations be directed to the Joseph A. Dear Memorial Scholarship Endowment at The Evergreen State College Foundation.
Material from The New York Times, Bloomberg News, The Sacramento Bee, The Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber was used in this report.