Ernesta Procope, whose insurance company was greeted as the first Black-owned business on the boulevard of American finance when it relocated its office to Wall Street in 1979, has died. She was 98.

She died on Nov. 30 at her home in Queens, in New York City, according to the New York Times, citing her brother-in-law Frederick O. Terrell.

As founding president of E.G. Bowman Co., which billed itself as the largest Black-owned and woman-owned insurance broker in the U.S., Procope made a splash with her arrival at 97 Wall Street in Manhattan. Walter Page, chairman of Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., hosted a reception for the new neighbor, the American Banker newspaper reported.

Until the move, E.G. Bowman had been based in a storefront in the majority-Black Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, where Procope -- then Ernesta Bowman -- founded the company in 1953.

“I honestly felt I couldn’t stay in Bedford-Stuyvesant and operate the kind of business I think I’m going to have in the year 2000,” Procope said, according to a 1980 article in People magazine. “When I think about integrating into the economic mainstream, I can’t necessarily depend upon the Black consumer market for the product I have to offer.”

‘First Lady’
At the time of the move, her firm had grown from three employees, with a focus on home and car insurance, to a 33-person brokerage servicing commercial accounts with Fortune 500 companies, including General Motors Co., International Business Machines Corp., Kraft Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. Since 2012 E.G. Bowman has been located at 5 Hanover Square, two blocks off Wall Street.

She became known as “the first lady of Wall Street,” Black Enterprise magazine said in 1993.

Procope, who held the title of company chairman in recent years, served on the boards of Chubb Group Inc., Cornell University and the New York Urban League, and she was a former chairman of the board of Adelphi University.

Ernesta Gertrude Foster was born Feb. 9, 1923, according to public records, though she often said she was born in 1931. Her parents were Clarence and Elvira Lord Foster, immigrants from the West Indies, according to the Encyclopedia of African American Business and People magazine. Her father was a chief steward for the Cunard White Star Line.

An accomplished pianist, Procope performed at Carnegie Hall when she was 13 and attended New York’s High School of Music & Art, now part of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, according to a biography prepared by the company.

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