Bernadine Gines, who was the first Black American woman to become a CPA in New York, has died. She was 88 years old.
Gines died on Jan. 23, 2015 from a short illness. Services will be held on Sunday, February 15, at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, N.Y.
Gines was a native of Charlottesville, Va. She earned her undergrad at Virginia State University. Gines then completed her Master of Business Administration at New York University during the time the state required a four-year college education to sit for the CPA exam.
Although she exceeded the requirement, Gines had a difficult time finding a position at a CPA firm, according to the NYSSCPA newspaper The Trusted Professional and the book; A White-Collar Profession: African-American CPAs since 1921 by Theresa Hammond.
“She was a trailblazer and a history maker, who has and will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come,” said Rumbi Bwerinfa-Petrozzello, vice president of the NYSSCPA's Brooklyn-Queens Chapter.
NYSSCPA honored Gines on Sept. 18, 2014 on the 60th anniversary of her earning the CPA. “It was a joy to have had the opportunity to meet and chat with Bernadine Coles Gines” said J. Michael Kirkland, the immediate past president of the NYSSCPA. “I am truly better for having met her and learn of her story first hand. We should celebrate her life and accomplishments by carrying her story with us and passing it on as an inspiration of what can be accomplished no matter the impediments.”
During the ceremony, Gines shared her story of race and gender discrimination and how it didn’t stop her from pursuing a career as a CPA. “I had an MBA from NYU, I thought I would get a job right away,” Gines recalled at the ceremony. “I was naïve. I sent letter after letter from the YWCA in Harlem, where I lived, but not one person replied,” she said. “When I got married and moved to Queens, I got a few more responses with that address.”
While working as a bookkeeper at The New York Age, an African American newspaper, Gines said she learned about Lucas & Tucker, an African American-owned CPA firm in Manhattan. Her hope deflated when she learned they didn’t hire women.
Feeling as if she had not one but two strikes against her, Gines, who had graduated first in her class at Virginia University, was undeterred. After two years of rejections, a CPA firm with a predominantly Jewish clientele hired Gines, she said she was impressed to be met with such “courtesy and respect.”
“I think I took them by surprise,” she said. At first the two partners were hesitant to hire Gines, but eventually brought her on board in 1949. One of the partners sent a letter to all of his clients to notify them of their new hire. The one client who objected was quickly dropped. The partners conducted business as usual, taking Gines on client visits as they would with any employee. “If their clients had any problems with me being there they never showed it,” Gines shared.
Gines went on to have a long career with the City of New York Office of the Comptroller. In her retirement Gines practiced yoga, traveled and volunteered for the AARP as a tax counselor during tax filing season.
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