David Mittelman, a bond manager who for 22 years was part of a renowned investment team that quadrupled the value of Harvard University’s endowment, never lost the passion for astronomy he discovered as a college undergraduate.
He founded three observatories, funded science scholarships, and had recently embarked on a project with other astrophotographers to capture and map a massive detailed image of the glowing hydrogen emissions festooning the night sky.
“The concepts of how much can be learned through the analysis of light were stunning intellectual revelations that have bounced around in my mind for years,” he told his alma mater, Middlebury College, in 2014 when he endowed a professorship in honor of his astronomy teacher P. Frank Winkler.
Mr. Mittelman, 62, who was a managing partner at Convexity Capital, died May 23 in his Dover home from an aggressive brain cancer diagnosed last fall.
“He was funny, wicked smart, a wonderful colleague, and a dear friend,” said Jack Meyer, a friend and longtime business partner who is CEO and cofounder of Convexity. “He had a big heart and a positive attitude that was irrepressible.”
As a bond manager and senior vice president at the Harvard Management Co., Mr. Mittelman was part of a team that consistently beat the markets and significantly increased the university’s endowment to $25 billion over two decades. Meyer was Harvard Management’s president.
In 2005, Mr. Mittelman and Meyer, along with fellow portfolio star Maurice Samuels and others, left Harvard Management and launched Convexity in Boston. The team’s paychecks while at Harvard Management drew criticism in 2004 from a handful of alumni after news broke that Mittelman and Samuels had each earned more than $25 million one year and about $35 million each in the previous year.
“Throughout his remarkable career in money management, Dave never lost sight of the fact that the best way he could add value and change the world was by securing the financial well-being of universities and nonprofit organizations,” his family said in a written tribute.
“The lives of many – from students to professors, from doctors to patients – have been touched by the financial skills that Dave brought to the trading room, always with the goal of bettering society,” his family said.
Mr. Mittelman’s nature was to go all in with anything he pursued, according to his friends and family.
Over the past 28 years, including last year, he cycled in the Pan-Mass Challenge in August to raise funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Mr. Mittelman and friends organized Team Lizard, which is one of the oldest teams in the Pan-Mass and a top fund-raiser. One of the team’s traditions involves stopping for a shot of tequila at an old tiki bar a few miles from the finish.
“He was a successful businessman, but he didn’t wear it at all. He was more interested in listening than talking,” recalled his friend Dr. Greg Shoukimas. “When he said something, it mattered. And everything he said seemed to have a chuckle at the end of it.”
Shoukimas, who rode the Pan-Mass Challenge with Mr. Mittelman for many years, and also shared training rides with him, said riding in the event this year will be “hard, very hard. I really can’t imagine he’s gone.”
Mr. Mittelman grew up in Armonk, N.Y., the son of Myra (Schoenfeld) and Phillip S. Mittelman. His father was a physicist and inventor who held several patents and founded an early computer technology company in the late 1960s. His mother was a civic activist who fought for women’s equality.
He graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in geography from Middlebury College, where he also played soccer. He received a master’s in business administration from Columbia University in 1981.
Mr. Mittelman had worked as a broker at Bear Stearns before joining the Harvard Management Co. in 1983.
While taking a math class at Columbia, he met Michele Hughes, who was a graduate nursing student. They were married 34 years and had three children.
“He believed in building a good life and giving back,” his wife said. “We had not just a good life, we had a better than great life together. I will miss him dearly.”
His daughter Jamie called Mr. Mittelman “the dream father” who made his family the center of his life. While his children were growing up, Mr. Mittelman was committed to arriving home each night for a 6 p.m. family dinner. He coached his children in soccer, helped them learn lines for school plays, and assisted with math homework.
“He put us first. He was the dad who was always there for everything,” Jamie said.
Mr. Mittelman’s younger daughter, Melissa, a financial journalist in New York, said her father “loved to have a good laugh.” She recalled family ski trips and long drives with her father playing music from the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead. His life philosophy, she said, was work hard, play hard, live with integrity, and “really be present in what you’re doing.”
“He was very genuine and humble,” said son, Andrew, who completed medical school this year and is beginning a residency. “He really enjoyed making other people happy. His greatest passions involved helping other people, and that’s what he instilled in us.”
Mr. Mittelman’s wife and children are his only immediate survivors. A celebration of his life will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28 in the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston.
Mr. Mittelman established a family foundation that supports conservation, education, and health care. He also served on the boards of Dana-Farber, Middlebury College, and the Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts, and was an adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. This year, his alma mater’s board voted to rename the college’s observatory in his honor.
The observatories he founded are in Dover, in Eagle, Colo., and at the New Mexico Skies Astronomy Enclave near the village of Cloudcroft, where a pair of remotely operated telescopes are collecting images for the sky mapping project dubbed the MDW Hydrogen-Alpha Sky Survey.
This month, a 20,000-pound telescope, which was decommissioned from Princeton University, was installed at the New Mexico observatory. Mr. Mittelman’s friend Dennis di Cicco, a fellow astrophotographer and member of the team working on the sky-mapping project, watched as a giant crane lifted pieces of the telescope into place.
“It was sad. Dave wasn’t there to see it,” he said, recalling their friendship and excitement over the project.
An estimated 4,200 images are needed to create the final image, he added. Each image requires four hours of exposure. In addition to eventually producing a spectacular artwork, the nebula images are already being used for research.
“There’s no way it would have happened without him,” di Cicco said. “He had the resources, but he also had the desire, the drive to say, ‘Let’s do this.’ ”
J.M. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com.