‘Pathfinder for women in business,’ Kay Fahringer, a Miami banking executive, dies at 100

Courtesy Don Slesnick

Catherine “Kay” Hewson Fahringer, a renowned South Florida financial executive and community leader who lived to 100, knew how to make an entrance.

Especially when things went awry.

Once, she did a face plant while crossing a stage to speak at a national conference.

After tripping and falling, the former Dade Federal Savings and Loan vice president, chair of Jackson Memorial’s Public Health Trust and trustee emeritus of the Florida International University Foundation, got up from the stage floor. She approached the microphone and told the startled crowd. “I really fell for this audience.”

Fahringer saw an opportunity. “It really broke the ice,” she told the Miami Herald in a 1982 story.

Fahringer died March 10 at 100, said family friend and personal representative, Don Slesnick, the former mayor of Coral Gables. Fahringer lived in the city for generations and was the first female president of Coral Gables Country Club when she assumed the leadership role 60 years after the venue’s 1923 founding.

“In her heyday, Kay was a whirling dervish of activity, both socially and professionally. Keeping up with her was almost impossible. She had a good heart, and never turned away from an opportunity to do something good for the community,” Slesnick told the Herald.

Moving to Miami

Born in Philadelphia in August 1922, a divorced Fahringer moved to Miami in 1958 with her son, Frank Beckett.

That year, she joined Dade Federal Savings and Loan, which later became CentTrust Savings Bank. In 1990, Centrust, whose I.M. Pei-designed headquarter building was featured in the opening credits of “Miami Vice,” fell victim to the savings and loan crisis and closed. Fahringer had retired in 1984, but was on the CenTrust board at the time its failure drew national headlines.

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Fahringer’s pluck and savvy got her noticed long before she found her footing as a financial executive in South Florida.

Business career

In the late-1930s, a family friend told her to “stand tall.” Partly, that was unavoidable. She was more than a head taller than her peers, according to a Florida International University profile.

She had skipped four grade levels by the time she was in high school but could not accept an athletic scholarship at Temple University in Philadelphia. Even with the assistance, the Depression had left her family poor and her father was sick, she had said, and so she had to find work at 16.

On the trolley to her first job interview, her future boss happened to be on the same ride and took notice. She was unaware until the interview when he picked Fahringer out of a room of 100 women. He told her that he was “impressed by the way she carried herself,” FIU reported. She got a front desk job.

The job led to the first of many jobs. A savings and loan in Philadelphia hired her after she placed an ad in a newspaper touting herself as a “hard worker.” The banking offer intrigued her, she later told the Herald. “Women have an affinity for finance. I could see things.”

By 1958, at 36, divorced and a single mother, Fahringer sought a change of scenery and “sauntered down,” she said, to South Florida.

Dade Savings and Loan Association seemed as impressed with her as that first boss on that fateful trolley ride at 16.

At Dade, she rose to an executive vice president position and board of directors role through her retirement in 1984 after the death of her second husband, Edward Fahringer.

“Kay was a real pathfinder for women in business,” Slesnick said in an email to the Herald. “She rose to the top of her profession while taking leadership roles in many important organizations, both private and public.”

FIU Foundation

Fahringer was chairman of the search committee that led to Modesto “Mitch” Maidique’s installation as FIU’s fourth president in 1986. She had been on the FIU Foundation board since 1976 and became its president in 1982. Her election as its president made her the only woman holding such a position in the state university system to that point, according to the Herald.

“I’m very honored to be selected for the presidency. Flattered in fact,” Fahringer told the Herald at the time.

Fahringer tapped her business savvy when making her selection of Maidique public.

“For excellence in education, you must have the dollars. And that means support from the community. Dr. Maidique will be a very integral part of our fund-raising efforts, and that will be something new,” Fahringer told the Miami News in 1986.

When Fahringer was elected foundation president during his tenure, Maidique’s predecessor, Gregory Wolfe, told the Herald, “She is one of the most dynamic and dedicated leaders I have met in Miami. Her sense of community service and her capacity to excite her companions on the board has been well known. She’s quite a lady.”

READ MORE: Gregory Wolfe, former FIU president, dies at 93


Fahringer, who loved golf, cooking and collecting horse figurines, was a lifetime founding director of WPBT Chanel 2, and a public arbitrator for NASD Regulations Association.

She was named the Outstanding Citizen of Miami-Dade County in 1984 for her work in health care and education and in 2007, received the Pioneer Award from Miami-Dade County’s “In the Company of Women” program.

Slesnick also shared that Fahringer was his mother Anne Slesnick Leidel’s best friend for over a half century and “had sponsored Jeannett’s and my first wedding shower 54 years ago.” Later, he said she sponsored wedding showers for the Slesnicks’ daughter and son.

“I’m not bold or brassy,” Fahringer deferred in a Herald profile when she assumed the FIU position. “I find warmth, understanding, willingness to help and extend myself have been what have proven successful for me.”

Coming memorial

Kay was predeceased by her husband, Edward, and her son, Frank Beckett. A memorial service will be held at a date to be determined at the Coral Gables Congregational Church.