When the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. figured out last year that it was facing a series of big bank failures, it hired Harrision Young as director of its Division of Resolutions. And last fall, it hired Gail Patelunas, who quickly became Mr. Young's right-hand aide.

A veteran of KPMG Peat Marwick, where she worked with former Federal Reserve heavyweight Steve Roberts on bank mergers and acquisitions, Ms. Patelunas had built an excellent reputation for handling failing banks.

"She played a very significant role . . . in the Fleet takeover of BNE," said Paul Quinn, a Washington lawyer who helped Fleet/Norstar Financial Group put together the winning bid last April for Bank of New England Corp's. failed banks. "She certainly was in the eye of the hurricane."

Good Sense of Humor

Mr. Quinn described Ms. Patelunas as inquisitive, knowledgeable, tough, and focused.

Ms. Patelunas is a stone-faced dealmaker; she comes off as quiet and studious. But Mr. Young, her boss at the FDIC, swears she's hilarious. "When you work under pressure the way we do from time to time, someone with agreat sense of humor is a great asset," he said.

With BNE under her belt, Ms. Patelunas turned her sights to the FDIC's rescue of New Hampshire's five failing major banks.

"There is pressure from every angle, as you can imagine, with that many institutions" on the block, said Larry Connell, chairman of New Hampshire Savings Bank, one of the five being auctioned. "She handles it very well; she is very conscious about being fair to all the parties.

"She's a professional."

Before joining Peat in 1987, Ms. Patelunas had worked 18 months on Wall Street as a bank analyst at Kidder, Peabody & Co. But she moved back to Washington after marrying James I. Garner, who works in the Federal Reserve's bank supervision and regulation division.

Ms. Patelunas spent seven years at the Fed, from 1979 to 1986, working on holding company applications to merge with or to acquire other banks. Toward the end of her tenure, she focused on emergency applications for federally assisted deals.

Buying a failed bank with government money can be lucrative for the acquirer because a bank can grow with little risk; the FDIC assumes much of the downside by giving buyers leeway to return acquired assets that turn bad.

The FDIC hired Ms. Patelunas in November to help handle the 350 bank failures it predicted for 1991 and 1992. When the government seized the $20 billion-asset Bank of New England in January, it just had Mr. Young, Ms. Patelunas, and an analyst pulled from the FDIC's research department. Now, Mr. Young is in the midst of bringing on a slew of new people.

As the resolution division beefs up, Ms. Patelunas is shifting away from the massive deals like BNE to smaller ones such as Chase Manhattan's recent acquisition of two Connecticut banks.

Widening Responsibilities

"Instead of being a component, it will give me more of a chance to run my own shop," she explained. "I will have greater responsibility."

As part of her new responsibilities, Ms. Patelunas also will be reviewing requests for money from banks and thrifts that wish to be bailed out while remaining open.

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