Daniel Tully, a former Merrill Lynch & Co. chairman and chief executive officer who spoke out as both critic and cheerleader as the firm tried to weather the 2008 mortgage crisis, has died. He was 84.

He died May 10 in Darien, Connecticut, according to his daughter, Eileen Ceglarski, whom he was visiting. He was a resident of Hobe Sound, Florida.

Merrill Lynch shares tripled during Tully’s tenure as CEO, from May 1991 to December 1996. Assets under management topped $500 billion for the first time in 1993; that year, Tully earned $9.6 million in salary and bonuses.

’Great Leader’

In a memo to employees today, the heads of wealth management at Bank of America Corp., which bought Merrill Lynch in 2008, called Tully “a great leader and a lifelong friend of Merrill Lynch” who “strengthened the leadership of our wealth management business, built Merrill Lynch into a top competitor in mergers and acquisitions, and successfully carried forward our global expansion in investment banking.” The note was signed by Terry Laughlin, vice chairman and head of global wealth and investment management; John Thiel, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management; and Andrew Sieg, head of global wealth and retirement solutions.

Tully retired as chairman in 1997 after 42 years at the firm, then watched as Merrill Lynch’s fortunes first continued their bull-market rise, then fell with dire consequences.

In 2007, he became the first former head of the New York-based firm to speak out about its performance under CEO Stanley O’Neal. That year’s third-quarter net loss of $2.24 billion, the biggest quarterly loss in Merrill Lynch’s 93-year history, was primarily the result of $8.4 billion in writedowns on loans and mortgage-backed bonds.

’It’s Awful’

“I’ve been in touch with many, many of our fellow employees and ex-employees and they’re sick, everyone is sick about it, as I am too,” Tully said in an interview at the time. “It’s awful.” He lamented “the excessive risk that apparently was taken.”

In August 2008, Tully praised O’Neal’s successor, John Thain, for liquidating $31 billion of mortgage securities for 22 cents on the dollar.