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UCB CEO Bell steps down short of 50 years


After almost 50 years in the banking business, Ed Bell still isn’t giving up on the idea of getting into a new business venture. His new office on the first floor of Pinnacle 412 building in Cedar Bluff Office Park is command central whenever this prominent 70-year-old Loudon County- and Farragut-area banker finds the right situation.

“I’ll probably stay in the banking part of it,” Bell said just a few weeks after retiring from United Community Bank in July, marking 49 years of banking service as a president, chairman and CEO serving customers in Loudon County and Farragut in addition to Monroe, Roane and Blount counties. “Right now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

In 1991, two years after his first retirement, Bell helped local colleagues open a new bank, First Central Bank, which was sold to United in 2003.

“Within the first ten years, we went from zero to one-hundred-and-fifty-eight million [in assets],” Bell said of First Central Bank’s seven banks in five counties.

First Central is where Bell said many former employees truly displayed their loyalty. “The day I opened the two banks [in Loudon and Lenoir City], I hired one person off the street; all my old people came [back],” he said. “They all left the former bank that I sold. … I had some that had been with me thirty, forty years.”

Prominent Farragut resident and real estate developer Doug las A. Horne, owner of Horne Properties, Inc. and farragutpress, labeled Bell “one of the most prolific community banking developers in the whole region. He’s been involved in the development of numerous banks. Been a great economic developer, his leadership has caused great economic development. Everyone knows Ed’s a great Tennessean and a great American.”

An emeritus member of the United board, Bell also owns B & B Enterprises, a real estate development company.

But while Bell continues to search for other business challenges, his shotgun and motorcycle will help keep him occupied.

“I live on the lake but I don’t fish much — but I hunt … I’ve hunted all my life,” Bell said, adding that he and some friends will be making their annual trek to South Dakota for a three-day pheasant hunt beginning Oct. 15. “That’s opening day. I enjoy hunting birds, that’s my number one hobby.”

In June 2004, Bell and friends visited Argentina on what he said was a successful duck, geese and dove hunt, bagging several hundred birds. “We’re planning to go back probably next year,” he said. With an overpopulation of birds, “they welcome us down there.”

Also an avid boater, Bell spoke fondly of his two-wheel hobby. “I do a little Harley riding,” the 70-year-old said about his Harley-Davidson motorcycle excursions. “I spend a lot of time on weekends on it. I enjoy riding (U.S. Highway) 129 (aka The Dragon) up to Fontana (N.C.). I enjoy riding the mountains. I won’t ride long rides, I don’t care about that. Some will take off for the West Coast or Florida, but I just enjoy riding around here on up in Kentucky or somewhere like that.”

Raised on a farm in Waynesboro in Middle Tennessee before moving to Loudon County and graduating from Loudon High School, Bell began his banking career in 1956 after being laid off from a job converting uranium in Oak Ridge.

“They were getting ready to start a new bank in Lenoir City [Bank of Lenoir City] and my next door neighbor was going to be the president … there was only five of us at the beginning,” Bell said. “I went to work filing checks in a vault for thirty dollars a week. By nineteen-sixty-two or –sixty-three, I was the only [original] one left at the bank.

“I never intended to be a banker,” Bell added. “But I had to have a job, I had to work somewhere. … I enjoyed what I was in. … it’s been very interesting, it’s been very rewarding.” By 1973, Bell worked his way up to president of what became the Bank of Loudon County.

Earning certificates in banking from the University of Tennessee and the University of Virginia, Bell said forging a bond with his customers has been his biggest key to success.

“Community banking is altogether different from big corporate banking,” Bell said. “I’m a country banker, a community banker, he’s more closer to his customers.”

Because people like their personal touch, “they’ll always be community bankers,” Bell said.

 

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