Trader Talk

Read Warren Buffett's touching tribute to NYSE's James Maguire, 'world's greatest specialist,' dead at 86

Key Points
  • The NYSE's James Maguire Sr. has died at age 86.
  • Maguire was the specialist for Berkshire Hathaway at the New York Stock Exchange.
  • In a note to CNBC, Warren Buffett wrote: "I labeled him the 'World's Greatest Specialist.' He also was the world's greatest guy."
Wall Street titan James Maguire, Sr. dies at age 86

James Maguire Sr., a titan of the Wall Street trading community, has died at age 86.

He served Wall Street for over 60 years beginning in 1949 (the Dow Industrials was 181 when he started), working on the New York and American stock exchanges.

Maguire ran the specialist firm Henderson Brothers for many years, which he sold to LaBranche around the run of the century, and was later a specialist for Barclays. He traded the stock of The Washington Post, but perhaps most famously he was the specialist for Berkshire Hathaway and was a good friend of Warren Buffett.

His kindness was legendary, which I experienced personally. When I came on the floor 20 years ago, he allowed me to stand next to him for hours to watch him trade Berkshire. He introduced me to Buffett at a time when Buffett rarely spoke to the press.

Here is what Buffett wrote to me Monday on Maguire's passing:

"As a very young kid, I was fascinated by the NYSE, an infatuation intensified by my visit there in 1940 as a 9-year-old. I read everything available about the operation of the Exchange, and even wrote a paper about the specialist system when an undergrad at Wharton.

"So when Dick Grasso came calling in the mid-1980s to talk about listing Berkshire, I was more than receptive. There were technical problems, involving a change in the 'round lot' rules, but, as you would expect, Dick found a solution. He then asked me who I would like as a specialist and after checking around it was obvious that the choice should be Jimmy.

"We immediately became the best of friends and I labeled him the 'World's Greatest Specialist.' He also was the world's greatest guy.

"Jimmy and [and wife] Diane would come out to the Berkshire annual meeting and we would have a blast. He would give me elaborate lectures — in front of Diane — warning me that she should be banned from our jewelry store. (In truth, he loved to buy her something special.) Diane likes to make customized belts and Jimmy proudly gave me a beautiful creation of hers featuring Berkshire products.

"Jimmy was an original and his passing leaves a big hole in the heart of everyone who knew him. I'll be singing 'Wait till the Sun Shines, Nellie' on New Year's Eve in his memory."

Maguire was widely respected for his wit, wisdom and leadership. He was renowned for his professorial demeanor, often wielding a baton to point to important stock information on the screen above him.

"We used to call him 'The Chief,' because he always knew the answer to everything," UBS' Art Cashin, a friend of his for many decades, told me Monday morning.

James Maguire on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 2007.
Andrew Burton | Bloomberg | Getty Images

He also led the traditional Christmas carol singing of "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie" as Buffett mentioned above.

He was particularly kind to guests of the NYSE, patiently explaining how trading operated. He told me once, "I love people. ... I never worked a day in my life."

He is survived by a large family, including wife Diane and sons James Jr., Michael and Paul, who also worked on Wall Street.

Here is my 2010 interview with him, celebrating 60 years on Wall Street.