Guthrie: ‘I’m not a miracle; I’m blessed’

Published 9:37 am Thursday, November 18, 2010

You can describe him in many ways – business-minded, outgoing, customer-oriented, and likable – but don’t tell him that he is lucky. “Luck has nothing to do with anything! I am fortunate and I am blessed … I truly believe in the power of prayer,” said Gary Guthrie, former president and CEO of Troy Bank & Trust.

After ongoing health issues required him to retire earlier this year, Guthrie has made a remarkable recovery from major liver transplant surgery in May. “I miss the day-to-day interaction with the TB&T employees and customers and I miss being around my executive team … but I know that Troy Bank & Trust is in very good hands,” Guthrie said.

“We miss Gary at Troy Bank & Trust,” said Sherrill Crowe, chairman of the TB&T Board of Directors. “Troy Bank & Trust experienced tremendous growth under his leadership. Gary had the ability to successfully navigate new situations and determine what would work best for the bank. He had the communication skills to get the best from his executive team and to clearly articulate the direction of the company in this new era of banking. His Troy Bank & Trust legacy will be far-reaching and long-lasting.”

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John Harrison, the Superintendent of Banks for the State of Alabama and former president and CEO of The First Citizens Bank in Luverne, recognized Guthrie’s potential as a banker in the early 1980s. “I tried to hire Gary to come to Luverne and work at First Citizens Bank, but he turned us down,” Harrison said. “I knew he was going to be great in the field of banking, and history has proven me correct – which was good for Troy Bank & Trust.”

“It was very reassuring to me to be able to sit down with Gary when the city was going through the purchase of the hospital, and openly talk about what needed to be done, financially, and have him assure me that TB&T could make it happen,” said Jimmy Lunsford, mayor of Troy. “He has always been a good sounding board when we were dealing with financial issues, and I always feel that he is giving me good solid feedback and information.”

Born the son of a Baptist preacher in rural Arkansas, Guthrie was sickly as a child. He’d had rheumatic fever two different times by the age of 10. Rheumatic fever is painful, can be crippling and can cause permanent damage to the heart. As a result, the doctors told his parents that he would always have physical limitations – he probably wouldn’t be able to do all the things a normal, active child would do. After receiving this news, his father asked if Guthrie could participate in the school’s upcoming Field Day. The doctor cautiously agreed, if the young Guthrie would promise not to “overdo it.” At Field Day that year, he ran in, and won every race event in his class. “Once I was given permission to do it, I just wanted to run, and run fast,” Guthrie said with a smile.

He continued to enjoy running and joined the track team in high school. He developed into quite an athlete, making All-Conference in track, football, and basketball and was the Decathlon champion as a high school senior in the state of Arkansas. “I still hold the record in the 100 yard dash in the decathlon in Arkansas,” he boasts proudly.

Guthrie was offered a scholarship to run track at several universities, but chose The University of Alabama and became a member of the “A” Club, while majoring in finance.

It was at the University of Alabama that Guthrie met his future wife, the former Carla Cook, from Elba. They dated “about a year” before they decided to get married. Next month, they will celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. They have two sons, Adam and Drex, and a grandson, Cade.

Guthrie began his banking career in 1971 at Central Bank in Birmingham. “At Central Bank, I was able to get the best experience possible in banking because I worked in all areas – proof, teller line, credit cards, personnel, investments and even with the general ledger. I got to know, first hand, what every department in a bank does and is responsible for,” he said.

In 1975, he was recruited to Wiregrass Bank & Trust in Headland, as operations and investments Officer. Guthrie was later promoted to president of Wiregrass Bank & Trust.

In August 1986, then TB&T president Doug Mims hired Guthrie as senior operations and investments officer. Upon the retirement of Mims in 1997, Guthrie was named as president of Troy Bank & Trust. “When I was hired, the assets of the bank were around $100 million. By the time I retired, we had created a holding company, merged with the Peoples Bank of Coffee County, had 150 employees in nine locations and had assets of over $825 million,” Guthrie said proudly.

“Even after I was named as president, I still felt that I had to ‘sell myself’ to the board. So I began to put together the best group of loan officers and management team that I could – and my first new hire after I became president was Jeff Kervin”, said Guthrie.

“Mr. Guthrie showed a lot of confidence in me and my abilities when he hired me to work with him at Troy Bank & Trust,” said Kervin, now president and CEO of the bank. “I have always appreciated that support, as well as the mentoring opportunities that came in working with him every day. I am a better banker because of my work experience with Mr. Guthrie.”

In addition to hiring key personnel, Guthrie thought the bank product line should be expanded. “I wanted Troy Bank & Trust to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for all the banking and financial needs of our customers of all ages – in essence, we wanted to be the only bank that anyone would need,” Guthrie said. Out of that mandate, the tagline, “the only bank you’ll ever need!” was born.

“We’ve tried very hard to be on the cutting edge of bank technology and products, to be able to serve all of our customers’ financial needs…if we can provide all they need here, there is no reason for them to go to any other bank,” he stated.

Guthrie realized the importance of keeping banking “personal”. “There is intrinsic value in banking with a person, face-to-face. I know the trend is toward more automation in banking, and while we should offer that option to our customers, I hope that Troy Bank & Trust will continue to be a personal bank,” he said.

Having served as president and Board member of the Alabama Banking Association, former Chairman of the Board of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and Board member of the Pike County Economic Development Board, a member of the TROY University College of Business Advisory Council, and having helped form and launch the Central Alabama Title Company, he is very aware of the impact of businesses on the local economy. “New regulations and the overall economy will present some challenges to community banks over the next couple of years. Community banks will survive – despite these new government regulations. They will be harder to manage, but the banks that survive, will be the strong, well-managed banks with good, well-trained employees,” Guthrie said.

“The TB&T Board is strong and they will make the right decisions that will keep the bank going in the right direction,” said Guthrie.

“The Board has been very good to me. Through all of this, they have shown Carla and me so much understanding and concern,” he said.

In September, 2009, Guthrie’s wife, Carla, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After several rounds of chemotherapy, Carla was pronounced cancer-free. The health issues that Guthrie had been trying to ignore during Carla’s illness now forced him to seek treatment. “In December, my liver disease began to get worse and I began to feel sick, like something was definitely wrong. Each time we got a report, it was increasingly worse than the last, until finally, in February, I went on the liver donor list at number 100,” Guthrie said. “In talking with the doctors, they couldn’t give me a time frame for a liver transplant, but they told me that I needed a new liver within six months to a year or I would, in all likelihood, die.” In the next few weeks, Guthrie’s condition began to deteriorate and soon he was No. 1 on “the list”.

After reaching the top spot on the liver transplant list, Guthrie had to prepare to be in Birmingham at the Kirklin Clinic within six hours of receiving “the call”, telling him that there was a liver that was a match to him.

“I knew there was only one person that I wanted behind the wheel getting me to Birmingham,” Guthrie said.

“I was honored that Gary chose me to ‘fly’ him to Birmingham,” said Lunsford, laughing.

“We prayed a lot, and we asked our friends and our church family to pray with us and for us,” sGuthrie said.

“My father taught me so much about the power of prayer … he was one of the strongest ‘Prayer Warriors’ I have ever known! Because of all the prayers, calls, cards and concern shown to us, I always had a peace about the ultimate outcome of this … I just knew, just felt, that everything was going to be alright,” he said.

“I don’t know how you would go through something like this without a strong faith and a strong church family like ours at Park Memorial.”

When asked about his plans for retirement, Guthrie is quick to say that he doesn’t have a “bucket list.” He would like to travel, but mainly travel to see his grandson in Colorado. “I want to help others, to give back. I feel like I will be directed as to what I should do,” Guthrie said.

“I feel good! I’m able to exercise some and I’ve gained back six pounds. I started driving again in September, and I would like to play golf again – maybe by March.

“People call me a ‘miracle’, but I’m not the miracle,” he said. “The miracle was that God put together the doctors, the timing and the donor – he made sure that it all came together at the right time and put me in the right place. I’m not a miracle ,.. “I’m blessed.”