'Black Monday' NYSE chief dies

John J Phelan Jr, the former New York Stock Exchange chairman credited with managing the chaos of the "Black Monday" market crash of 1987, has died at the age of 81.

The NYSE Euronext and Mr Phelan's family confirmed that he died on Saturday, but the cause of death was not disclosed.

A former marine who worked as trader for years before leading the exchange, Mr Phelan was best known for keeping the markets open following the historic crash on October 19 1987. That day, stocks suffered what is still the largest single-day percentage drop, with the Dow Jones industrial average crashing nearly 23%.

It was considered Mr Phelan's finest moment. Those who were there say panic gripped Wall Street as trading volumes soared, orders littered the floor and the Dow plunged. But Mr Phelan worked with calm authority and resisted calls to close the exchange, which he knew would breed further panic. Later that day, he rang the closing bell himself, demonstrating leadership at a time when the eyes of the world were on the exchange.

"I think he went a long way in protecting us from a much worse situation," said James Rutledge, managing partner of Rutledge Securities Group, who was there for the crash.

The following day, pressure to close the market continued but Mr Phelan walked the floor, cheering traders on. Meanwhile, he worked closely with the Federal Reserve to convince banks to keep credit lines open so trading could continue and pressure on the market would ease.

President Ronald Reagan later heralded Mr Phelan and his staff's work in a letter Mr Phelan read aloud from the podium of the exchange. Many who were there say it was this kind of visible leadership that defined him.

Mr Phelan was regarded as an intelligent and calm man who derived his authority from experience. Having worked at nearly every level, he was familiar with the market's innermost workings. As an official on the floor, people regularly sought him out because they saw him as a knowledgeable and fair resource.

He served as exchange president from 1980 to 1984 and then as chairman from 1984 to 1990.

The New York native is survived by his wife Joyce and three sons John, Peter and David.