The chief executive credited with turning around a once troubled Massachusetts thrift resigned abruptly this week for undisclosed reasons.

Officials at People's Bancshares, Brockton, would only say that John A. Williams, its president and chief executive, had resigned because of a "personal disagreement."

Mr. Williams' resignation took effect today, but he had already left the $513 million-asset institution earlier this week. He could not be reached for comment.

Colin C. Blair, the thrift's chief financial officer, said the parent of People's Savings Bank had reached a confidential severance agreement with Mr. Williams and could not discuss their dispute. Telephone calls to several board members, including chairman Frederick W. Adami 3d, were not returned.

Mr. Blair, who is also the thrift's treasurer, will be senior executive officer until a replacement is found for Mr. Williams. People's Savings hopes to complete the search in the first quarter, he said.

Although what sparked Mr. Williams' unexpected departure is still a mystery, the cost of the spat was revealed this week. People's Bancshares will recognize a one-time, after-tax severance and legal expense of $180,000 in the fourth quarter.

The news shocked at least one bank analyst and prompted the company's investment banker to issue a statement assuring investors that nothing was wrong at the bank.

"I thought he had been doing an incredible job," said James Moynihan, bank analyst and senior vice president at Advest Group in Boston. "This hit me like a bolt out of the blue."

Mr. Moynihan speculated that a difference of philosophy emerged between Mr. Williams and the holding company board of directors. "Because of that, they asked him to resign," Mr. Moynihan surmised.

Mark Fitzgibbon, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners, issued a statement saying the company assured him that Mr. Williams' departure was not due to fraud or any fundamental problem at the bank.

Sandler O'Neill, a New York investment bank, helped People's Savings raise $10.5 million of additional capital in March.

Mr. Fitzgibbon attributed the thrift's successful turnaround to Mr. Williams' arrival in 1992. At that time, People's Savings was on the brink of collapse, with more than 13% of its assets nonperforming. Nonperformers currently are about 1% of the total, he said.

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