BANGOR, Maine — Malcolm E. Jones, who oversaw Bangor Savings Bank’s transition from a modest, community bank with $133 million in assets to a wide-ranging, statewide branch network with almost $700 million, died Sunday at the age of 81.
The Athens native and University of Maine graduate began working as a teller and messenger at Bangor Savings in 1954, when the bank had just one location, 15 employees and $20 million in assets. He became bank executive vice president in 1971 and president in 1975, continuing the institution’s tradition of local management, control and access as it expanded to a network with 279 employees and 13 offices with locations from Greenville to Eastport and Bangor to Houlton.
“He was a real legend. I’ve known his name since the day I came to Maine in 1990,” said Jim Conlon, Bangor Savings president and CEO. “He was directly responsible for the success of businesses in this community. There are definitely some businesses still operating to this day because of Mal Jones.”
One such “business” is Husson University, formerly known as Husson College.
Jones saw Husson through a tough financial crisis in 1983, when the federal government threatened to auction the college off if $7 million in bonds weren’t paid up.
“That story is legendary. Both he and [former Husson president] Bill Beardsley used to tell the story about how much difficulty the college was in and him taking an active role in rescuing it,” Conlon said.
Jones quickly put together a financial package for the school that staved off an auction, paid off the bonds and restored the school to financial health.
The man whose peers and friends have called the Will Rogers of the Maine banking community maintained his office right off the tellers’ booth floor at the main office on State Street until his retirement in 1995.
“He was very open and very approachable. He was usually the first one here in the morning and the last one to leave it,” said Jane Irving, senior vice president and manager of mortgage development at Bangor Savings.
“Mal was very in tune with people. He told me all the time to listen to my gut when we were talking about loans,” said Irving, who worked directly with Jones for 20 years. “He had a sense of people and knowing how they’d react, and he relied a lot on his keen intuition and gut instinct.”
Jones believed ardently that it was important for his customers to know that Bangor Savings was a local bank that wasn’t controlled by out-of-state interests, and he encouraged customers to talk with bank employees, and vice versa.
“I really learned mortgage lending from him,” said Irving. “He’d always put his initials at the bottom of a loan, but sometimes he’d circle his initials. I finally asked him why and he told me it was to note loans that he wasn’t totally sure about, but was trusting my judgment on it. That made me twice as cautious, but also helped my confidence that he had that much faith in me.”
The U.S. Army veteran, who served 15 months in Korea, didn’t exempt himself from that open-door policy as he invited anyone to come into his office and tell him what he and the bank were doing right or wrong.
“The number of people who’d come in and sat at the secretary’s desk just to wait to see or talk to him is legendary,” said Conlon.
Jones is survived by his wife of 58 years, Barbara; two daughters, Pamela and Lisa; a sister, Ellen Jones; and four grandchildren.
After retiring, Jones continued living at his modest home on Broadway in Bangor with his wife while also spending time at his family farm in Athens, where he, his sister and two brothers were brought up.
“For all the responsibility and notoriety he had with his job and standing in this community, he never lost his connections to St. Albans and Athens, and his family,” Irving said. “He never forgot where he came from.”
The BDN archives were used in this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Malcolm E. Jones was 82. He was 81.