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Painting with Her Own Paint

A remembrance of Patricia Cloherty (1942–2022)

By Steven Boyd Saum

Illustration courtesy Columbia Teachers College

 

When the New York Times and Wall Street Journal marked the passing of Patricia M. Cloherty, they saluted her as a trailblazing venture capitalist — all the more unlikely a pioneer given that she was a woman who never trained in finance. She learned that on the job. First came the Peace Corps which, she said, taught her “that I enjoy life enormously…And also that I am enormously flexible.”

She had sights set on becoming a Volunteer in 1963 when Maria Von Trapp almost talked her out of it. The matriarch of the family made famous by “The Sound of Music” was visiting San Francisco, where Cloherty was student body president at the San Francisco College for Women. “You will become a pawn of American foreign policy and you will ruin your life,” Von Trapp warned. Instead, she invited Cloherty to work as her assistant in Vermont.

Cloherty did, briefly. Then she went to Brazil with the Peace Corps and in a remote part of the country helped run programs in health, agriculture, and more.

A Ford Foundation Fellowship enabled graduate study at Columbia, where Cloherty earned two master’s degrees. At a U.N.–related event in 1969, she met Alan Patricof, an investor opening a venture capital firm. He invited her to join him as a research analyst and learn the business. Within two years she was a partner.

 

“I thought it was interesting to take on giants. I’d been in the Peace Corps. You take on challenges…I didn’t think about it ever as working for someone. I thought about it as painting with my own paint.”

 

“There was only a tiny venture capital industry,” she recalled. “I thought it was interesting to take on giants. I’d been in the Peace Corps. You take on challenges…I didn’t think about it ever as working for someone. I thought about it as painting with my own paint.”

The company invested early in Apple, Office Depot, and the firm that became AOL. They bet on biotech and high-tech and built a multibillion-dollar international business, with Cloherty later serving as co-chair and president.

President Jimmy Carter tapped her for deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration. President George H.W. Bush asked her to advise on small business as well. In 1995, the Clinton administration named her a director of the U.S. Russia Investment Fund to nurture a market-based economy. She became chair of the fund and moved to Moscow for a dozen years.

Cloherty said that it was her maternal grandmother who introduced her to betting — at Bay Area racetracks before Pat was old enough to go to school. Through her later years, Cloherty still enjoyed visiting casinos as well as climbing mountains. She died September 23, 2022, at her home in Miami.


This remembrance appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.