Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Citigroup's Terri Dial: a "human cyclone" to the end

February 29, 2012: 12:52 PM ET

Tough, tenacious and famously strong-willed, Terri Dial picked up the nickname "the human cyclone" during her four-decade career in banking.

She lived up to her reputation until she died yesterday afternoon, from pancreatic cancer, at age 62.

Rising from teller to CEO of Wells Fargo Bank, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Dial went on to head UK retail banking at Lloyds TSB. In 2008, Citigroup (C) CEO Vikram Pandit lured her from London to be CEO of North American consumer banking. At Citi, Dial earned a spot, No. 47, on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list.

Dial lasted two years at Citi, amidst a maelstrom of management changes. In January 2010, she stepped down and accepted a senior adviser role.

Two weeks later, her medical nightmare began.

"Until then, she thought she was 100% healthy," recalls her husband, Brian Burry, who called last week from Dial's bedside at a hospice facility in Miami.

Burry told me that Dial, two years ago, went to her doctor in Manhattan for what she thought was a stomach flu. A visit to a gastroenterologist led to the discovery of a pancreatic tumor. Surgery, months of infections, and pneumonia followed. And due to these complications, her chemotherapy was delayed.

"This is the insidious nature of the disease," says Burry.

During their 32-year marriage, Dial pushed herself constantly, as she did in business. She and Burry traveled to more than 100 countries. She hot-air ballooned in Burma. She photographed pelagic birds, penguins, seals and whales in Antarctica. She tracked polar bears in Canada and tigers in India.

"What she did not do was squander time," her sister, Donna, wrote in Dial's obituary.

Through rigorous treatment, bouts of nausea, and brief remission of her cancer, Dial stayed positive, says Frontier Communications (FTR) CEO Maggie Wilderotter, who knew Dial for 30 years.

Lynn Carter, known as Lynn Pike when she headed Capital One (COF) Bank, was another close friend. Pike flew to Miami once a month to see Dial.

She recalls her January visit: "Terri was at home and feeling pretty good, and it was 10 days more to make it to the two-year anniversary of her diagnosis." That day, Dial remembered how pessimistic her doctors seemed to be early on. Proudly, Dial looked at Pike and said: "Well, at least I beat the odds."

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