A true banking legend, Willie McDonald will retire from CenterStone Bank the end of the month after 70 touchstone years in the banking industry.
His storied career is unmatched in banking, and he is the talisman of three generations of McDonalds changing the face of banking in both Wilson and Davidson counties.
With seven decades of banking under his belt at both Third National Bank, subsequently SunTrust Bank, and then CedarStone Bank, McDonald, 87, forged a family legacy with his son, Bob McDonald, and his grandson, Robert McDonald, following his lead with similar stellar careers in the same industry.
His son and grandson both work at CedarStone Bank. Bob McDonald was one of eight founders of CedarStone Bank in 2004 and after he retired from SunTrust after 53 years, Willie McDonald joined his son at CedarStone for another 15 years as a relationship manager. His grandson joined him at the Donelson branch, and they’ve worked side by side since.
The legend in banking will retire Oct. 31 with a small private party planned at the bank to salute his storied career.
“I went to work in 1950,” said Willie McDonald. “I was there 53 years and retired, and I’ve been with CedarStone 15 years. As a relationship manager, it simply means I do business development and go out and make calls and develop contacts.”
And, the contacts he’s made through these 70 years in an industry Willie McDonald broke into because of a caring principal at West End High School back in June 1950. The man essentially gave Willie McDonald his “break” in banking and launched his career.
Willie McDonald grew up in a family of six boys and five girls, all born in Monterey.
“My father was a coal miner and worked in a sock factory,” Willie McDonald said. “It was us 11 children when dad had the opportunity to move to Nashville.”
Willie McDonald’s dad died when he was 12 years old.
“There were still six of us children at home,” he said.
He knew then going to college was not an option.
“But, my principal knew someone at Third National Bank,” he said. “I graduated high school in June and went to work at Third National Bank on July 6. As with everyone new to the bank, I started in the transit department.”
Because of an empathetic principal who saw potential in a young man, Willie McDonald got his start in banking and never looked back. In fact, he proved himself 10 times over and rocketed to stellar heights with determination, integrity and fortitude.
In 1957, Third National Bank opened a branch in Donelson. Willie McDonald, meanwhile, started taking management classes at night.
“I was the head teller at the Donelson branch and, in 1963, was named manager of the branch,” he said.
That’s when his career took off. He retired in 2002 at then SunTrust as senior vice president. He spent about 18 months at Regions Bank, and then, when his son helped found CedarStone Bank in 2004, he came on board there. The rest is a family legacy born out of a young man without a father, but of a mother he cannot laude enough, even to this day.
“My rewarding career was built on traits my mother taught me,” Willie McDonald said.
His mom’s name is Beulah.
“She instilled in me how to be successful in all ways. It was about encouragement from her to do something with my life,” Willie McDonald said. “She taught me how to enjoy whatever career I chose.”
And while through the years, Willie McDonald was bestowed with countless awards for his career achievements and passionate career involvement – dozens of board appointments across an array of professional entities – one accolade stands out. In 2014, the Tennessee Bankers Association awarded him with a Leaders of Banking Excellence plaque.
“I’ve been involved in community activities here and in Nashville a lot,” he said. “Lots of plaques and recognition, but this one was a total surprise. This was a high one. Most who receive this are presidents and CEOs in banking. So, for me to receive it meant everything.”
He received two plaques from the association; one graces his home, and the other is on the wall at the CedarStone Donelson branch.
Leader of a legacy
“I did not encourage or discourage my son or grandson to get into the banking industry,” Willie McDonald said. “My son, Bob, saw I had a successful and happy career with friends and relationships. Both saw what this career meant to me and how much fun I’ve had. The neat people I’ve met through all these years. Now, they enjoy what I’ve loved for years.”
Willie McDonald and his wife, Helen, celebrated 66 years of marriage Sept. 3. They share two sons, Bob and Bill, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Bob McDonald, who is president and chief executive officer at CedarStone Bank and works out of the Lebanon office, said he watched his dad’s career from a young age. There are currently branches in Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, which opened simultaneously in 2004, and soon after in Donelson.
“I grew up in a banking family,” said Bob McDonald. “I watched dad’s career. I knew he loved it.”
Bob McDonald fell into the profession naturally, with a mentor and role model in his dad.
“Dad’s 87,” he said with a smile. “He still goes in every day to the bank and even on weekends. Now, he can celebrate a great career, and 70 years is a milestone. It’s the right time. Now, he can kick back and relax and finally take some personal time.”
Bob McDonald said his father had expectations for him to work hard and be responsible.
“He expected a work ethic, but at the same time, he was a fun guy to be around,” he said.
As a family, they headed to Panama City Beach, Florida.
“Most of dad’s years were spent in the heart of Donelson, where he lived and worked,” Bob said
Bob McDonald said his father focused on business development and building customer relationships at CedarStone.
“As everyone knows, he’s very personable and active in the community,” Bob McDonald said.
He said his son, Robert, 31, was at the CedarStone Donelson branch for six years, after three years working at two other banking institutions. He’s worked alongside his grandpa. He’s the vice president.
“We have three generations of banking in this area,” said Bob McDonald. “We know it’s unique and special. Our motto is simply banking, simply better.”
He said his dad taught him customers come first.
“We know life is complicated, but banking solutions don’t have to be,” he said.
Extending the legacy
As the third generation, Robert McDonald is the youngest of the legacy as Willie McDonald’s oldest grandson.
“A special memory that I can still recall to this day took place in February of 1992,” he said. “This event was to celebrate Willie’s [official] retirement from Third National Bank/SunTrust. Over a hundred of his colleagues, close friends and customers held a retirement party for Willie at Opryland Hotel. Even though I was only 4 years old at the time, I knew this was a very special occasion.”
The surprise that day from Willie McDonald’s friends was Robert and his brother and three cousins atop a brand new 1992 Ford Mustang convertible wheeled in and presented to Willie McDonald.
“The car was a gift from his colleagues and customers who worked alongside Willie for over 54 years,” said Robert McDonald. “ It was absolutely incredible to witness the pure love and admiration from all individuals in attendance. Even though I was only 4 years of age, I knew this was something special, and I wanted to have a career just as rewarding. Willie still drives the car to this day….”
Robert McDonald echoed that neither Willie McDonald nor his dad directed him into banking.
“I grew up witnessing firsthand how rewarding a career in banking could be,” he said. “Watching the great relationships they were able to cultivate with people in the community and how they were able to make a true difference in people’s lives really inspired me. I was intrigued by this and knew that the banking profession would be a great fit for me. I never considered another profession.”
Robert McDonald said working alongside his father and grandfather was always a dream of his.
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not sit back and reflect on how fortunate I am to have this unique opportunity,” he said. “I am proud, honored and humbled to be a part of this banking family legacy.”
What’s special about grandpa Willie?
“Words cannot describe how special this man is, there will never be another Willie McDonald,” he said. “The positive impact Willie has made in the lives of individuals, families and his community will never be duplicated.”
Life after retirement
Willie McDonald is humble, despite his lifetime achievements. Among many honors, he was named outstanding young man of the year, a lifetime achievement award and twice a businessman of the year award from the Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce. Through the years, he’s made a difference in the communities he served.
Anyone who knows Willie McDonald knows he’s humble to a fault. And, they know after Oct. 31 he’s still going to stop by his branch to “check things out.”
However, he does plan to enjoy his retirement.
He said there are no real plans in the immediate future. He’s traveled just about everywhere, to Europe, Hawaii and more.
“I’ve done all the traveling a person can do,” he said. “I’m just going to take off the remainder few years of my life.”
Though he’s played tennis his entire life, that might not be in the bag, but he loves his long walks, reading and watching classic movies. And, he’s going to cut his community boards down to four or five.
“I feel I’ve been so lucky to be to be so active for 70 years,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve loved every minute.”