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First American founders gratified by success

By Eric Fleischauer · 340-2435

What a ride it has been for the founding directors of First American Bank, soon to be acquired by RBC Centura.

The close-knit group of men congregated every Saturday at the 237 Johnston St. S.E. building when it opened in 1981, sipping coffee, trading war stories and planning.

The original directors included Lynn C. Fowler, then district manager of South Central Bell, later to become mayor; Allen Hamilton, president of Hamilton & Riggs Agency; James Hurst, an officer at Gobble-Fite Lumber Co.; dentist Lloyd Nix; Bill Sexton, owner of Sexton Industrial Uniforms; Rhea Greenwell, president of G&W Asphalt; lawyer Bob Harris; lawyer Jon Moores; R.W. “Bud” Orr Jr., an oil distributor; Barrett C. Shelton Jr., then general manager of The Daily; and jeweler Jimmy D. Smith. Jim Gregory joined the board as the bank’s first chief executive officer.

Their Saturday morning planning must have worked. Capitalized with $1.6 million, the first shares sold for $10 each. Almost all of the 317 shareholders were from Decatur.

By the end of 1996, the value of those initial shareholder investments had increased by a multiple of 11.

The bank had assets of $15 million in 1982. By 1992, it had reached $129 million.

In July 1997, the bank announced that Birmingham-based Alabama National BancCorp would acquire First American in a stock exchange.

Alabama National’s shares, worth $22 each when it acquired First American, were trading at $77 on Thursday, after RBC Centura announced its plan to acquire the company.

“When we first formed this bank back in 1981, we had a group of directors and employees committed to providing excellent service,” Fowler said Thursday. “It’s rewarding to see how that concept has developed. I’m sure the level of service will continue in the future.”

Harris said he expects First American’s legacy to continue after the merger.

“I understand that one of the very significant features of the transaction was the competence of our management people, the First American group,” Harris said.

“That gives me reason to think that probably they recognize the value of the kind of operation we’ve put in place over the years and that they’ll try to maintain it.”

Harris said he will feel a tinge of sadness when First American signs come down and RBC signs go up, but also gratification.

“I’ll always enjoy the recollection that we started with an idea and made it into a reality.”

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