RICHMOND, Va. - Upon learning that W. Gordon Binns had died, Dean LeBaron donned a conservative suit, a white shirt and a special necktie with a pattern identical to one Mr. Binns owned. He pulled down an old, worn Baedeker's travel guide from his bookshelf. And then he then sat down in front of his Web camera and recorded a heartfelt message to Mr. Binns' widow, Alberta.
"Part of us, and what we are, is due to him," Mr. LeBaron said. "He demonstrated to all of us what it meant to be confident and to use that confidence for others."
Close to 500 friends and industry professionals from all over the country filled the First Presbyterian Church in Richmond for Mr. Binns' funeral April 9.
Mr. Binns died April 4 at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia Hospitals. He was 72. Less than a year ago, he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, said his daughter, Amanda, 27. Mr. Binns developed an infection April 2 while driving home from Florida with his wife following a cruise.
Mr. Binns melded a keen interest in books, an innate inquisitiveness and a love of travel into a 50-year career in finance, much of it spent advancing groundbreaking ideas in the importance of emerging markets and other new strategies as the head of GM's pension fund.
Mr. Binns is credited with diversifying the automaker's pension fund into new areas, including international equities, venture capital and real estate, and with making other moves to help grow the fund from around $11 billion when he started to about $53 billion when he left.
At GM, Mr. Binns' was known for taking off at little more than a moment's notice to far-flung locales - including China, Latin America and the former Soviet Union - in search of new investment opportunities.
He took many of those early trips in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Mr. LeBaron, one of the founders of Batterymarch Financial Management Inc., Boston.
Mr. Binns' successor at GM, W. Allen Reed, said Mr. Binns had a pioneering spirit that served the fund.
"He was very interested in looking for investment opportunities that were sort of beyond the traditional. That was pretty leading edge thinking in those days."
In 1985, Mr. Binns helped found the Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets, an organization that now represents some 140 pension funds with more than $1 trillion in assets. CIEBA serves as a liaison between pension fund administrators and Capitol Hill, advocating on behalf of plan sponsors and informing pension funds of pending legislation and other issues.
After leaving GM, Mr. Binns worked with the Virginia Retirement System to expand the system's holdings in equities. He left the VRS in 1998. Mr. Binns spent much of the last 10 years in his native Richmond.
Mr. Binns is survived by his wife, Alberta, two daughters and a sister.
Donations in memory of Mr. Binns can be made to the Christian Children's Fund, 2821 Emerywood Parkway, Richmond, Va. 23294-3725; or the Medical College of Virginia Foundation, P.O. Box 980234, Richmond, Va. 23298-0234.