RIP: Evelyn Y. Davis

Evelyn Y. Davis, one of Wall Street’s true characters, has passed on, aged 89. She was known as the original shareholder activist, which is a polite way of saying she grilled CEO at shareholder meetings.

It’s a basic rule of our free enterprise system that if you own shares in a company, you are the owner. As a result, you’re fully within your right to question management. And question, Ms. Davis did.

For more than five decades, the Netherlands-born Ms. Davis attended annual meetings of Bank of America, Ford Motor Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., among many other companies, to offer advice and demand changes. She advocated lower pay for executives and term limits for directors. Sometimes she advised CEOs to resign or commented on their looks.

At a Goldman Sachs annual meeting in 2011, when the investment bank was still facing regulatory and legal fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, she advised the CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, to step down. “I want people to know I have nothing against you personally,” she told Mr. Blankfein. “And you are not a bad-looking guy.”

Mr. Blankfein replied that he had no plans to resign.

She held stock in more than 80 companies and published an annual newsletter, Highlights and Lowlights, to recount her tussles with top executives. She charged $600 an issue and insisted that companies buy at least two copies.