LONDON — Barbara Judge, a high-flying American-British lawyer, banker and entrepreneur who broke the glass ceiling of male dominance at regulatory agencies and other influential institutions in Washington, Hong Kong and London, died on Monday at her home in London. She was 73.
Her personal assistant, Susan Cavanagh, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
As the youngest person — and only the second woman — to become a commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, and later as the first female chair of Britain’s Atomic Energy Agency, Ms. Judge built a curriculum vitae studded with precedent-setting appointments and reflecting her oft-voiced belief that success grew from long hours, close attention to detail and hard work.
In her public life she championed the advancement of women in business, and she set her own example: She was, at various times, the first female executive director at a British merchant bank and the head of London’s clubby Institute of Directors.
Such was the breadth of her interests that she was sometimes criticized by adversaries for assuming too many roles — notably when she served as a board member responsible for safety and other issues at Massey Energy, a United States coal concern, at the time of a disaster that killed 29 miners in 2010. An official report did not criticize her directly.
She courted controversy with remarks about the duration of maternity leave and other issues. But, she told the Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society, she worked hard “every single day, and every single night, and mostly every single weekend.”
“It was,” she said, “a time you really had to do better if you were a woman.”
Ms. Judge — who took the title Lady Judge, as protocol permitted, after her marriage in 2002 to Sir Paul Judge — also drew some criticism from groups advocating a greater role for women in business when she gave a speech in 2016 in which she said she opposed long maternity leaves because such “breaks are bad for women.”
Nonetheless, she later took nine months off work to help her son meet the challenges of dyslexia by nurturing his education. He graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania.
Ms. Judge was also known for her roles in higher education and the arts. She was associated with an array of business schools in Britain and the United States, including the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She sponsored a scholarship for Black South African women at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London and had been a trustee of artistic bodies like the Wallace Collection and the Royal Academy of Arts. British media outlets labeled her “the best-connected woman in Britain.”
But her stellar trajectory splintered in 2018, when she was forced to resign as chair of the Institute of Directors, founded in 1903 to promote the interests of senior managers. Critics accused her of sexism, racism and bullying — charges she said she “strongly” refuted.
She and her allies at the 30,000-member institute, whose colonnaded headquarters are on Pall Mall, an upmarket London thoroughfare lined with exclusive male-dominated private clubs, argued that she had been the victim of a conspiratorial maneuver to entrap her. One of the institute’s most senior figures, for instance, had covertly recorded his conversations with her to bolster the accusations against her. Details of those conversations, and of a draft report of a lawyer’s investigation into the episode, were leaked to British newspapers, triggering her decision to quit.
The episode rankled until her death. “I was set up. Absolutely,” she said in an interview for this obituary.
The scandal was particularly damaging in light of both her reputation and that of the institute. Ken Olisa, the institute’s deputy chair and one of Britain’s best-known Black entrepreneurs, resigned in support of her on the same day she did. He said the imbroglio had made the body “a laughingstock in the court of public opinion.”
Barbara Suzanne Singer was born in Manhattan on Dec. 28, 1946. Her mother, Marcia, was associate dean of students at New York Institute of Technology. Her father, Jules, was a businessman. She was the eldest of three children.
She said frequently that her mother was a major influence in her life, encouraging her to believe, she told The Financial Times in 2014, that “anything is possible if you work hard.” She frequently disputed the notion of so-called work-life balance, arguing that there was no such distinction because work was part of life. She said in 2020 that her mother taught her, “No matter how bad it gets, just get back on the horse.”
When she was 19 she married a fellow student at New York University School of Law, Theodore J. Kozloff. They divorced in 1975.
In 1979 she married Allen L. Thomas, who like her was a lawyer,; they had a son, Lloyd, in 1983. The marriage ended in 2001. In 2002 she married Paul Judge, a British entrepreneur, philanthropist and fund-raiser for the Conservative Party. He died in 2017.
In addition to her son, she is survived by her mother; her sister, Nancy Singer; her brother, Michael; and a granddaughter.
Ms. Judge had not always wanted to be a lawyer.
“I wanted to act when I was young,” she said in a 2005 interview with the S.E.C. Historical Society. “My father had lost all his money, and my mother wasn’t having any starving actresses, and she said, ‘If you want to act you can act in front of the jury.’”
She qualified as a lawyer in 1969 and worked as a corporate lawyer in the city before joining the S.E.C.
At the commission, she pressed for the internationalization of stock markets, traveling to Japan to seek access for American investment banks to the Tokyo Stock Exchange — an initiative she listed among her principal professional achievements.
“Some years ago I was on the shortlist to be on the board of the Bank of England. It was in the 1990s,” she told The Manchester Evening News, a British newspaper, in 2015. “In the final interview they asked me what the best thing I ever did was.”
“My initial thought was how I’d gone to Japan to enter into negotiations which resulted in opening the Tokyo Stock Exchange to foreign members so British and American firms could list on it,” she continued.” But instead I told them how I’d discovered that my son, Lloyd Thomas, had dyslexia. After I’d discovered the dyslexia I took nine months off to work with him so he could continue his education in the best way possible.”
“I didn’t get the job,” she said. “In business the best thing I’d achieved is probably the Tokyo situation. In life, though, it was helping my son.”
In 1983 she and her husband moved to Hong Kong, where she became the first female director of a British investment bank, Samuel Montagu. She later joined Bankers Trust in New York.
As a director of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, she moved to Britain in 1994. She went on to head an array of British regulatory bodies, including the Atomic Energy Agency; Britain’s fraud prevention service, Cifas (the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System); and the Pension Protection Fund.
In 2010 she was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire, a high honor, in acknowledgment of her roles in finance and nuclear power.
After the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, she was part of an international panel hired by the facility’s operator to recommend changes in its corporate culture.
Before she fell ill, Ms. Judge frequently said that she wanted to continue working. During treatment for cancer, she sought to keep her illness a secret from all but her family and close friends.
“I didn’t want to die before I died,” she said.