Jim Jenkins

Jenkins: NC Bankers Association president did his part and then some

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comFebruary 12, 2014 

There is a statue of Don Quixote on Thad Woodard’s desk at the North Carolina Bankers Association. Quixote reportedly kept a statue of Woodard on his desk, feeling he was running behind in the contest to see which of them would tilt at the most windmills in a lifetime.

Woodard, 68, insists his recently announced decision to retire on Jan. 1 of next year as NCBA president was his, but that it was his board that demanded a lengthy notice. That he’s got a year to go doesn’t mean, he says, that he really doesn’t want to leave the job he’s loved. (He served related associations prior to getting the top job at NCBA.)

“I’m ready,” he says. “But I tell you I will be working on Jan. 1, 2015, because I have always worked on New Year’s Day since it has brought me good luck. But when I’m done at 5 o’clock, I will not return. I’ll close the door, shed a tear, and leave.” Those who know Woodard recognize the dramatic cadence. In fact, he doesn’t take himself nearly so seriously.

The bankers undoubtedly believe Woodard’s done a great job advocating for their profession, and that’s right ... even when some in the business were vilified during the Great Recession. Even now, he talks of bringing Russian bankers to North Carolina years ago to let them study the banking system, which he believes is the “best in the world, no question!” (Friends of Woodard also recognize the exclamation points.)

Woodard has been politically astute. When John Edwards beat the bankers’ staunch ally U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth in 1998, Woodard announced immediately a fund-raiser for Edwards (who wound up on the Banking Committee). The purpose, he said, was “so we can help Johnny,” Johnny being a family name Edwards had left behind for the campaign in favor of John.

But the truth is that much of Woodard’s notoriety comes from work in the community. And this is where the windmills come in. He’s long campaigned, for example, for the renaming of Raleigh-Durham International Airport to Wilbur and Orville Wright International, which he notes would not only honor the men who flew the first powered flight on the Outer Banks but would allow the region to use the airport abbreviation “WOW.”

The idea was not greeted enthusiastically by the powers at the airport or those on its governing authority. Woodard didn’t let up. He even went to Willow, Alaska, the only place he could find with the WOW airport designation, and figured he could talk the folks there into giving it up for Raleigh-Durham.

In an irony that doesn’t escape him, he never did get appointed to the airport authority, but, he says, “They did put me on a noise abatement committee.”

He also battled for free parking in downtown Raleigh. Again, the powers that be ignored him, repeatedly.

Woodard got his biggest break, he says – besides being born to a mother from whom he inherited his ebullient personality and a father he worshiped – when he drove Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles around North Carolina in 1972. “When I went to work for the banks,” he says, “I could find anything because I’d been all over the state, all 100 counties, with Skipper. That helped.”

Yes, Woodard figures he’s been to every bank branch opening in North Carolina over decades, and to hundreds of funerals of those in the industry. He’s put together conventions around the world.

On one pre-convention trip to the Bahamas, he met actor Robert De Niro, and had his picture taken with him. It appeared in the association magazine, with the caption that Woodard was talking with De Niro about Camp Challenge, an NCBA one-week program for disadvantaged late elementary and early middle school kids that gives them instruction in finances and reading and speaking skills. Again, Woodard’s friends will recognize his endless promotion of NCBA causes, no matter the circumstances.

To this day, Woodard swears he really did talk about Camp Challenge with the actor, “though I’m still waiting for his check.”

Over the years, Woodard’s engaged in other causes that, unlike his WOW campaign, were anything but controversial: Warmth for Wake, the fuel assistance program, Boys and Girls Clubs, and arranging land donations for headquarters for charitable organizations. He’s chaired the United Way, and led committees that helped result in the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and the building of a dam at Falls Lake. He’s been, in short, the sort of “corporate citizen” communities need, good at jawboning but not settling for less than results.

“The truth is,” he said, “I’m afraid that a lot of people, when they see me on the calendar, say, ‘Oh, my God, here he comes again. What is it now?’ 

Well, now it’s retirement. But he’ll still be on those calendars.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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