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PASSINGS: Tom Braly, Virginia B. Smith, Robert P. Biller

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Tom Braly

Insurance executive and racehorse breeder

Tom Braly, 72, who parlayed success in his insurance business into ownership of thoroughbred horses, notably the 3-year-old filly Evening Jewel, died Friday at his home in Indian Wells, said his trainer and business partner, Jim Cassidy.

Braly died after a battle with head and neck cancer, seven years after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He watched Evening Jewel's latest victory Aug. 21 in the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks, a Grade I stakes race at Del Mar's summer racing meet. The filly, one of the best in the country this year, has six first-place finishes and five second-place finishes in 12 starts with $876,943 in winnings. Two of her runner-up results were by a nose to Blind Luck, the leading 3-year-old filly.

Braly and his wife of 54 years, Marilyn, bought their California-bred filly for $132,500. The couple maintained a small stable of horses since purchasing their first share of a horse 30 years ago.

"Racing was always a fascination," Braly told The Times earlier this year. "My family had a box at Hollywood Park, and when I got older and got a little money, I wanted to be around it."

Born in 1937, Braly was raised in Long Beach. After graduating from USC, he got a job as a police reporter at the now-defunct Los Angeles Mirror. He had a side job selling mortgage insurance and, after he realized he could make more money doing that full time, he switched. He ran Mills Insurance Service, which expanded to offices in Lake Forest, Los Alamitos and Palm Desert.

Virginia B. Smith, who served as acting president of Mills College in Oakland in 1990 and '91, after the Board of Trustees reversed its decision to switch from a women's institution to co-ed, died Aug. 27 of heart failure after collapsing at her home in Alamo, Calif., a family spokeswoman said. Smith, an economist and attorney from Seattle who had served as president of Vassar College from 1977 to 1986, was 87.

Robert P. Biller, a longtime USC administrator whose posts from 1976 to 2001 included dean of public administration, executive vice provost, vice president for external affairs, dean of admissions and financial aid, vice president for undergraduate affairs and interim dean of the School of Policy, Planning and Development, died Sunday at his home in La Cañada Flintridge after an illness, the university announced. He was 73.

-- Times staff reports

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