Friday, February 15, 2008

After Long Time on Job, Banker Ready to Retire

The following article originally ran on July 17, 1996, the day before my Nana retired on her 80th birthday. She had a wonderful 40 career in banking. Thanks to my mom, Virginia, for making sure this article was written.


After long time on job, banker ready to retire
by Julia Campbell, St. Petersburg Times, July 17, 1996

Frances S. Paulk said she still remembers the day her father threw a pebble in a lake and the two of them watched the concentric circles slowly disappear.

"Do something in life that will leave ripples for a while," Paulk said her father told her.

It was a life lesson she said she has never forgotten. And as she retires Friday as a bank officer at NationsBank in Tarpon Springs at the age of 80, Paulk says she hopes she is leaving some ripples behind.

"I worked real hard," said Paulk, whose 80th birthday is Thursday. "It's been a real challenge and very interesting."

Paulk came to work at Ellis First National Bank in Tarpon Springs, as it was called then, in 1957. She said she got the job by walking into the office of the then-bank president, A. L. Ellis, and asking for work.

"He hired me that day," Paulk said. She started the next morning and Ellis, who was one of the richest men in America at the time of his death last fall, handed her a key to the bank.

Over the next four decades, Paulk learned all facets of the banking business under Ellis' tutelage, rising from an assistant cashier handling foreign exchanges to a vice president.

Paulk learned her trade on the job. Paulk said she took some business courses as a young woman, but she had no formal education or training in banking.

In an interview, Paulk was quick to point out her Southern accent, a drawl cultivated as a girl on her family's 300-acre farm in Batesville, Miss.

Paulk was born to cotton farmers Robert and Lillie Scruggs. The upbringing of Paulk and her three sisters was steeped in Sunday church services, Bible verses and storytelling around the fireplace in the family's modest home.

Her parents, like most people at the time, struggled to make ends meet during the Depression. But Paulk said she had a good life, and "my momma and daddy taught me, `Don't be afraid of a challenge.' "

During high school she earned a reputation as a quick and skillful canner. Paulk's canned green beans won her a trip with the state 4-H Club to the 1932 World's Fair, where the pilot Amelia Earhart presented her with a platinum watch that still runs today.

The valedictorian of her Batesville High School class in 1934, Paulk won a four-year scholarship to Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss. But she had to leave college after one semester when her mother became ill.

During World War II, Paulk was a supervisor on the War Price and Ration Board and worked at a German prisoner of war camp in nearby Sardis, Miss.

In 1956, married and with two children in tow, Paulk moved to Crystal Beach. After she went to work at the bank, she quickly won the attention of Ellis, a shrewd businessman who was already developing his banking empire. In 1992, Forbes magazine included Ellis on its list of the 400 richest people in America.

"You would never know he was a rich man," Paulk said. "He acted just like an ordinary person. He was just another human being, no better than I was."

Paulk said Ellis was meticulous about how he spent his money. She said it was not uncommon for him to pick up a paper clip or rubber band from the floor so as not to waste it. "He knew how to make it and he knew how to keep it," she said.

Paulk said she stayed at the bank beyond the typical retirement age because she enjoys her customers and the challenges of the job. For instance, she recently learned a new computer system even though she knew she wouldn't be using it much longer.

She looks for challenges outside of work, too. Not long ago she took up a childhood dream of playing the piano. She recently had her first recital with other students - all children.

As her retirement approaches, Paulk said she is sad, but also excited about the possibilities. She is looking forward to traveling, especially to catch up with the lives of her children, Virginia Gardner, 47, of Chicago and Michael E. Paulk, 44, of Schenectady, N.Y. and four grandchildren.

"I have enjoyed my days," Paulk said. "This has been my cup of tea."

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