Robert Strickland, one of the giants of southern banking and a pioneer of interstate expansion, died Tuesday at his home in Atlanta.

Mr. Strickland, 67, the former chairman and CEO of Atlantabased SunTrust Banks Inc., had been diagnosed with cancer in June 1992, shortly after he retired from his last position as chairman of SunTrust's executive committee.

"It breaks the heart. We'll all miss him," said James B. "Jimmy" Williams, SunTrust's current chairman and CEO, who worked closely with Mr. Strickland for 35 years.

Mr. Strickland had been instrumental in helping form the southeast compact in the mid 1980s. This series of agreements between 11 southeastern states allowed interstate acquisitions within the region, and set the stage for national interstate banking.

In 1985, Mr. Strickland, then president of Atlanta-based Trust Company of Georgia, made the first major acquisition of the interstate era by purchasing Sun Banks Inc. in Florida. The combination of Trust Co. and Sun Banks resulted in a new holding company, SunTrust.

Mr. Strickland also helped Trust Co. weather Georgia's real estate recession of the mid1970s.

But he is often held responsible for the ill-timed purchase of Nashville-based Third National Corp, in 1986. SunTrust acquired Third National just before Tennessee's economy slid into a recession. Third National struggled with nonperforming loans for years afterward, although SunTrust itself was able to maintain its earnings momentum and Third National finally improved its own performance.

Mr. Strickland followed his father into-banking. The elder Robert Strickland had served as president of Trust Co. of Georgia from 1937 until his death in 1946.

The younger Mr. Strickland began his career as an auditing clerk with Trust Co. in 1948. Between 1950-52, he left the bank to serve with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was elected president of Trust Co. in 1973 and chairman in 1978.

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