WASHINGTON — Remembered as much for his kind-hearted sense of humor as for his long tenure as a leader on consumer banking issues, Joe Belew, the president of the Consumer Bankers Association died suddenly Wednesday.
Mr. Belew, 60, spent three years in the group's government relations division before becoming its president in 1987, where he worked to make the trade group a leader on retail banking matters like student lending, credit cards, and auto financing.
Before joining the trade group, Mr. Belew, a Georgia native who had studied journalism, spent 10 years as an aide to former Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., a former House Banking Committee member, with whom he maintained a close friendship.
Colleagues were shocked by the news Wednesday since he had appeared to be in good health but remembered him fondly for his substantive expertise and warm personality. The cause of death was not immediately known.
"When you saw Belew's name on your e-mail, you always clicked on that one first because it was always a very funny, wry observation on life around us," said Richard Hartnack, a CBA board director and the vice chairman of U.S. Bancorp, a member of the group.
"He always had access to the best jokes," Mr. Hartnack said, "or it was an incredibly valuable, smartly written, short and to the point observation on the industry or analysis."
Mr. Hartnack said that Mr. Belew had an inherent political savvy that dictated his belief that the industry should take balanced positions on policy matters.
"He really did counsel the balance," he said.
Diane Casey Landry, the No. 2 at the American Bankers Association and former head of America's Community Bankers, said Mr. Belew was a friend and mentor, who reached out to her when she took over ACB.
"He was a personal friend. I thought of Joe very much as a caring person, a mentor, and supportive of me," she said. "He was just a nice guy. The first one with a joke, he made sure he stayed light, but he carried his issues out there too … . He worked with the industry and the players and was a staunch advocate of his members at CBA."
Marcia Sullivan, the head of government affairs at CBA, said, "Everyone here is just devastated as you might imagine. We've been getting tons of calls from bankers and friends of Joe's. It's extraordinary."
John Stewart, the chairman of CBA and a president of local markets at Citigroup Inc., said, "We're all devastated by this news."
"He has been a class act," Mr. Stewart said.
"Anybody who has interacted with him on any arena, he's been the consummate professional, and Joe's the nicest guy in the world. He'd do anything to help anybody out and been the beacon of leadership for the Consumer Bankers Association."
Mr. Belew is survived by his wife and two children.