Summoned to the Georgia governor's mansion 27 years ago, Edward D. Dunn thought Gov. Jimmy Carter wanted his advice on selecting a state banking commissioner.
Instead, the future President asked Mr. Dunn, longtime president of Glenwood National Bank, to take the job.
"I don't know anything about regulating banks," Mr. Dunn, now 72, remembers politely telling Mr. Carter. He also wanted to ask his wife, Betty, about the offer.
Betty Dunn said he should take it-but only for a few years.
The few years ended July 1, when Mr. Dunn, who goes by the nickname Jack, retired. It happened quietly because the governor was away and therefore issued no announcement.
Mr. Dunn's replacement and trusted right-hand man, Steven D. Bridges, officially takes over Oct. 1.
The longest-serving chief banking regulator in the nation, Mr. Dunn had tried to retire before. But he agreed to see the state through a significant regulatory change, the introduction of intrastate branching last year.
The issue of allowing banks to branch across county lines had divided Georgia bankers for more than 20 years-and Mr. Dunn found himself in the middle.
"One of our largest headaches has been the branching," Mr. Dunn said in a recent interview in his former office at the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance. "The hardest thing was that some of the bankers don't like change."
Gov. Zell Miller asked him to stay on to help ease community bankers- branching's biggest foes-into the new era.
While Mr. Dunn, well known for his modesty, won't take credit for the relatively smooth transition, bankers across the state say it was probably the biggest accomplishment of a career served under four governors.
"It took someone of his stature to get it done-to get rid of the bickering and fighting that had been taking place," said Dan Minix, president and chief executive officer of Colony Bankcorp, Fitzgerald, Ga. "He gave us some good leadership and pushed it through. I think he had a good bit of courage to do that."
The branching law, which took effect July 1, 1996, limits banks and holding companies to opening branches in three new counties until 1998. Beginning July 1 that year, they can branch without restriction.
Until 1996, Georgia had been the only state in the Southeast and one of eight nationwide that did not allow statewide branching. The restriction was significant in that Georgia, the biggest state east of the Mississippi in land area, has 154 counties and more than 360 banks.
But some community bankers eventually came around to embracing the law. So far, 69 banks have applied for or received approval to cross county lines-most of them community banks.
"The people who fought it are using it now," Mr. Dunn said in his soft drawl.
Even those who have not taken advantage say they appreciate Mr. Dunn's tenacity in getting the bill passed amid intense political pressure.
"I can't criticize him-although I was opposed to it," said M. Randy Harvey, president of Lumpkin County Bank in Dahlonega, Ga. "We've been fighting over it for years. It needed to be decided."
Mr. Harvey said he is not happy that another bank, United Community, has moved into Lumpkin County and changed the pricing there. But he said he understands why Mr. Dunn pushed for the change.
"He always would come down on what he considered was in the best interest of the entire state of Georgia," Gov. Miller said in a telephone interview last week. "Sometimes it might be leaning toward the community banks; other times it might be leaning toward the big banks."
Gov. Miller said until Mr. Dunn was appointed it had been unusual for a bank commissioner to last more than one administration. He said Mr. Dunn won backing from four governors mainly because of his fairness. He also won independence: The governors did not interfere with his decisions even when they caused controversy.
Mr. Dunn immediately set out to revamp the state banking code. He successfully lobbied for a rewrite during the 1974 and 1975 Georgia legislative sessions.
The revision allowed for the creation and supervision of bank holding companies and multibank holding companies.
In 1990, his department started regulating check cashers. Three years later, the Georgia Residential Mortgage Act was enacted, giving the Banking Department oversight of 2,000 mortgage brokers.
The department, which has 139 examiners, raised eyebrows and elicited some complaints when it imposed a $6.50 fee on home loans to pay for regulation of the brokers.
Mr. Dunn borrowed the fee idea from the former Virginia bank commissioner, Sidney Bailey, who had initiated a $5 fee in his state.
"I didn't have enough sense to make it $10," he said. "It would have caused less attention if we made it $10."
He said increasing the department's supervisory scope helped further his goal of better protecting consumers. But he has an unresolved consumer issue: He is not happy about banks' charging double for use of automated teller machines nor about those that don't appreciate customers with little or no money in their accounts.
"I kind of wish we could backstep a little and have the banks serve the public a little bit better," he said. "I think we've come to the point where some banks ignore small people. I think banks can do a better job."
With the branching issue behind him, Mr. Dunn's office is now empty. Only the imprint of his antique English partner desk remains on the cornflower-blue carpet.
Though a public servant for more than a quarter century, Mr. Dunn said he hates the limelight. He refused to allow going-away parties and suggested this article should be about his successor.
Only after some coercion did he allow the Georgia Bankers Association to create a scholarship in his name at his alma mater, Georgia State University. The trade group is trying to raise $600,000 to establish an endowment.
But there is one subject on which Mr. Dunn readily speaks out: the health of Georgia banking.
"In 25 years we closed six banks," Mr. Dunn said after taking a few minutes to recall each one. "Some states, I won't mention who, closed as many banks on a Friday that we did over those years."
The Thomasville, Ga., native, who began his working life selling real estate and running a feed store, spent 10 years as president of a bank his father founded, the former Glenwood National Bank.
"My lack of experience didn't hurt the bank," he said jokingly.
Nor does it seem his lack of regulatory experience hurt the state's banking industry. Bankers said Mr. Dunn's department regulated with a strong hand and indeed kept the industry strong.
"They're pretty strict about how they charter, who they charter," said Hoyt E. Robinson, chairman of Lumpkin County Bank. "They're also strict about regulating banks."
"We try to be real friendly with our bankers," Mr. Dunn said. "The friendliness stops when they get in any kind of jam."