Friday, February 14, 2014

TOPSTORY >> Bank names two new directors

Leader staff writer

A nearly 60-year tradition ended Wednesday with “mixed emotions” as Jacksonville realtor Thad Gray stepped down from his post on the First Arkansas Bank and Trust board of directors.

Although Gray has served for 10 years, a member of his family — who opened Bart Gray Realty in 1948 — has been on the board for almost six decades, the outgoing board member said.

Bank president Larry Wilson said Bart Gray Sr. served for about 30 years and Bart Gray Jr. spent 10 to 15 years on the board.

The bank was established in 1949, just a year after the real estate company’s founding. The First Arkansas board provides leadership and direction through its policy decisions, Wilson said.

Gray is the executive broker and partner of Bart Gray Realty Management and RE/MAX Homefinders in Jacksonville.

The torch was passed to Whit Davis Lumber Plus president Terry Toney and Gwatney Chevrolet executive manager Jamie Cobb during a reception at Southern Oaks Country Club in Jacksonville.

Cobb was not there because of a previous out-of-town meeting, Wilson told about 30 guests who attended the event.

One of the new board members is replacing 7-year veteran Wetzel Stark, who served on the Cleburne County Bank and Trust board before First Arkansas acquired that bank in 2005.

Gray said, “I felt very honored and privileged to have served on the board of First Arkansas Bank.”

He described the experience as a great educational opportunity and a chance to work alongside good people.

“I love my fellow board members…I will certainly miss them,” Gray said. But he said he was excited to see where his replacement will steer the bank.

Gray added that he watched the bank double in size and successfully navigated through the economic downturn.

About Gray, Wilson said, “He has had a long and steadfast commitment to our community.”

The bank president told the guests that Gray has been the president of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

The realtor has been involved with the Jacksonville Jaycees, the Arkansas Jaycees, the Jacksonville-Cabot Real Estate Council, the North Pulaski Board of Realtors and the Jacksonville Rotary Club, Wilson said.

Gray was awarded an engraved glass bowl recognizing his years of service on the board.

Gray told Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) during the reception that leaving the board would give him more flexibility to spend time with family, including his 4-year-old granddaughter, and to sell houses.

Toney, one of the new board members, said, “It’s a great honor to be part of something like First Arkansas Bank. It’s just a great honor, especially with all the Wilsons and the bank have done for central Arkansas. I just feel privileged to be a part of it.”

He added that he would “try to be hands-on, obviously try to be on top of things and ask lots of questions.”

Wilson said Toney, while attending high school, began working for the “highly-regarded” lumber company known for innovation, quality products and customer service.

He has been with Whit Davis for 28 years.

Wilson said, “During that time he has worked in every area of the company, starting from the ground up.”

Toney oversees three lumberyards in Jacksonville, Cabot and Greenbrier, the bank president said.

He was named to the 2008 Arkansas Business 40 under 40 list of professional and political leaders.

Toney is also involved with the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and the chamber.

Wilson said Gwatney Chevrolet first employed Cobb, the other new board member, as a technician.

He moved to sales four years later and advanced quickly, the bank president said.

Cobb manages Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville and Gwatney Buick GMC in Sherwood.

He is a member of the chamber, the honorary commander of the 61st Airlift Squadron on Little Rock Air Force Base, a member of the base’s community council, the Arkansas Chevrolet Dealers Ad Association and the Arkansas Automobile Dealer Association Board, Wilson said.

He said in a news release about both appointments, “The passion they display for service to their communities will benefit our board, our bank and the markets we serve for many years to come. It is incumbent upon our stockholders to bring new thoughts and perspectives to our board, and we are convinced that these men will do just that.”

The bank president also thanked the outgoing board members, saying, “Our board members over the last 65 years have helped make the decisions that have enabled our bank to grow and helped this community to grow during that time.”

First Arkansas has 22 locations in central and north central Arkansas. It employs about 250 people with a total payroll of more than $10 million. The bank has $675 million in assets and a credit card operation in Atlanta with 75,000 accounts.