Next month will be the end of an era for The Farmers Bank, when President Tommy Whittaker retires after more than 45 years of service.
Whittaker was selected president in 2005, when Jerry Taylor retired.
He plans to help his son on his farm and spend time with his family during his retirement. Andy Nash has been named as his replacement.
Whittaker graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974 with a degree in business and a concentration on finance. He became interested in banking when he took some classes offered in the finance program.
He and his wife Shirley attended UT together along with about six other young married couples from Portland. They graduated together.
When they returned home, he said he was so determined to get into banking that he went into The Farmers Bank, and asked then-President Doug Lear for a job. Lear didn’t have any job openings at the time, but kept Whittaker in mind.
According to Whittaker, he went home and started looking in the Yellow Pages, when his eyes landed on The First National Bank of Springfield. After a quick phone call, he was invited to come for an interview and he was hired days later. He spent the next 18 months learning all phases of community banking.
In April of 1976, he got a call from The Farmers Bank asking him if he was still interested in working for them. He accepted a position and began working at the White House branch making loans.
In April 1977, he transferred to the main office in Portland, which was then on Main Street near the railroad tracks (now Strawberry Station). He continued making bank loans. He has now made loans to the fourth generation of the same families.
During his career as a banker, he attended the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.
In 2005, Whittaker was named president of the bank. He has seen the bank grow in assets from $25 million to now $850 million, with 10 branches and 150 employees.
Chairman of the board John C. Wilkinson said, “Tommy is one of the state’s most influential citizens. He has been an employee of The Farmers Bank for over 45 years and president/CEO for 16 years. During this time the bank has had significant growth and has produced steadily increasing returns to its stockholders.
“Tommy is leaving the bank in a very healthy position, producing years of steadily growing profits. He has also built a strong team to move the bank forward for years to come. We all wish Tommy and his family a happy, healthy retirement, and great success to Andy in his new position.”
Board member Jim Donoho said, “He was not only very well versed in the dealings of the bank but was also a people person, as anyone would know that knew him. Congratulations on a very well-deserved retirement and from what I hear…I hope you have learned the correct way to bushhog.”
Board member Randy Collins said, “Tommy Whittaker has been a vital and strategic part of the success of The Farmers Bank. His personality and relational skills have been instrumental.”
Whittaker told his employees in the email he sent them announcing his retirement, that he loves what he does, he loves who he does it with and he loves who he does it for. He said that is a tough combination to walk away from.
Whittaker said, “This place has been so good to me. If I went back in time and wanted to redo or rethink on doing something, what would I do? If I had to do it all over. I would do exactly what I’ve done.
“I tell my young people that this started out as a job for me and it quickly turned into a career. There’s a difference between a job and a career. To me it has always been a career for me and one I’ve really, really, really enjoyed every minute of. Good customers and great employees — everything a community bank does is to build relationships.”
Whittaker was elected on Oct. 2 to serve three more years as president of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation. He is also a member of the City of Portland’s Industrial Development Board. He was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to serve on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, where he served for seven years.
He and Shirley have two children Susan (Charlie) Hand and Joseph Whittaker and one grandson, Grayson Whittaker.
Whittaker retires from the bank on Nov. 14 — one day before his 70th birthday.