Frank A. Plummer spent only thirty-four of his seventy-five years of life in Alabama, but he left an indelible mark on the state’s economic future. He was the man who helped change the face of banking in Alabama through formation of the first registered multi-bank holding company in the state-First Alabama Bancshares, lnc.-officially sanctioned in 1971 by the Federal Reserve Board of Washington.
The company began with three banks-First National of Montgomery, First National of Huntsville, and Exchange Security of Birmingham. Under Frank Plummer’s guidance as Chairman of the Board and CEO from 1971 until his retirement on December 31, 1983, the company grew from a three bank holding company with assets of $576 million to a $3 billion organization with 24 banks and 5 non-banking subsidiaries.
Frank A. Plummer, the youngest child of Charles and Nettie Dwight Plummer, was born on June 18, 1912, in the small town of Richland, New York, near the Canadian border. As Frank Plummer related in an address to the Newcomen Society in 1983, his father (an entrepreneur in the best tradition of the Newcomen Society) died when the young boy was in elementary school. His mother, a young widow with tremendous responsibilities, delegated the moral and social areas of his training to his sister and the areas, such as baseball, basketball, trapping, and shooting to his brother.
While attending school, young Frank also worked in a grocery store which his father had acquired-bagging groceries and running to the local bank for change. Said Frank Plummer in 1983, “It didn’t take long for even a nine-yearold boy to discover that the local banker did less work than any man in town. My career. was selected.”
Though Frank Plummer often joked about his choice of career being associated with little work, his life belies his statement.
After graduation from high school, he worked his way through Syracuse University where he earned an undergraduate degree in finance and a master’s degree in political science.
The young man began his banking career in 1936 with Marine Midland Bank in Cortland, NY, in a clerk’s position – listed one step above the maintenance engineer (janitor) in the bank’s annual report. In Cortland, Frank Plummer met his beloved wife Elizabeth (Betsy) Higgins. In later years, Frank Plummer, with his puckish sense of humor, said that Betsy could always refute any claim he made to “starting at the bottom” in his banking career.
In 1940, he answered his country’s call by joining the infantry. Serving in the Pacific area of combat, he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he was appointed Executive Vice President and Director of the Marine Bank & Trust Company of Tampa, FL.
In 1953, the Plummers moved to Montgomery, AL, where he became the Executive Vice President and Director of The First National Bank of Montgomery (which became the First Alabama Bank of Montgomery).
During the next five years, he became known for his high ethical standards and for his forward-thinking and entrepreneurial acumen. This “New York Yankee” found ready acceptance in the Deep South because he was the epitome of a gentleman-a gentle and courtly, kind, gracious man who worked diligently for the good of his profession and the community.
In 1958, Frank Plummer became the President of Birmingham Trust National Bank and was promoted to Chairman and Director in 1961. In 1964, he returned to Montgomery as President of the First National Bank of Montgomery. He was named Chairman of the Board and President in 1969.
In the early 1970′ s, Frank Plummer (representing First National of Montgomery) began negotiation with First National of Huntsville and Exchange Security of Birmingham with the objective of establishing a wider pool of resources for economic growth in the state. The legislation prohibited branch banking which would permit banks to marshal their financial resources when money was tight.
The first application for a registered holding company, filed with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, was turned down. However, opposition to the new concept in banking was subsequently overcome, and First Alabama Bancshares, Inc. received official sanction from the Federal Reserve Board in Washington on June 13, 1971. The holding company became a key to progress in Alabama, opening the door to greener pastures for the people of the state through access to money and job opportunities.
Frank Plummer has been called a “banker’s banker.” A graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking, Rutgers University, he also served as an instructor and member of the Board of Regents there and as a faculty member of the Southwestern School of Banking at Southern Methodist University.
He was a director of the Birmingham Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and a director and member of the Executive Committee of the Association of Registered Bank Holding Companies.
Frank Plummer did not fit the stereotype of a banker. He had his own style. In all seasons, he wore an English Hornberg tipped at a rakish angle over his brow and dressed impeccably like a sophisticated man-of-the-world. “Mr. P,” as many employees called him, added a personal touch to the employer-employee relationship. He knew most employees by name and always expressed interest in them and their work.
Debonair Frank Plummer was also known as a “workhorse” in the local and state civic arena.
For example, he served as Director and President of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce; Director of the Alabama State Chamber of Commerce; and a director of the Alabama Power Company and of the Maytag Company of Newton, Iowa. He worked as Chairman of the Advisory Board and Director of the Montgomery Salvation Army and chairman of the Men of Montgomery.
Firmly committed to education, he served as a member of the advisory boards of Auburn University at Montgomery; the University of Alabama Medical Center; and Jackson Hospital Foundation. He was also a member of The Board of Visitors of Berry College and of The Board of Governors of the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges. He was a director of the Southern Research Foundation and of Alabama Bankers Association Educational Foundation.
For his many accomplishments and contributions, Frank Plummer was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Huntingdon College, Montgomery, in 1972.
Frank Plummer died in Montgomery on October 3, 1987, with his beloved wife Betsy and old friends standing by his side.
Banking had been his life and what he had done to develop banking was what he had enjoyed most. But Frank Plummer also loved people.
This successful, sophisticated executive was one who would stand at the door of the bank to welcome customers with apples at Christmastime.
Perhaps, these are some of the reasons that those who were privileged to know him will cherish the memory.
Sources of biographical information: An address by Frank A. Plummer to the Newcomen Society of the United States, in Birmingham, September 15, 1983 (published in April 1984); Alison L. Large, “Frank Plummer dies; pioneered state multi-bank holding firms, “The Birmingham News, October 5, 1987, p. 2A; The Latest Word, First Alabama Bank’s Monthly Publication, · October 31, 1987; “Notable Banker dies at age 75,” Birmingham Post Herald, October 5, 1987, p. C6; Starr Smith, “A banker’s banker: Debonair Frank Plummer, “The Montgomery Independent, October 15, 1987, p.7.