Harold Webster Smith, the founder and chairman emeritus of Webster Financial Corp., died Friday after a brief illness. He was 86.
Mr. Smith, considered one of the pioneers of Connecticut banking, opened Webster's predecessor, First Federal Savings of Waterbury, in 1935 with $25,000.
Webster officials said Mr. Smith, then 24 years old, ran the savings bank by himself for its first year. But it wasn't long before the thrift grew too large for one person to handle. By 1938, First Federal Savings had grown to $1 million of assets. The thrift was the first in the state to offer GI loans and the first in the Waterbury area to make FHA loans, according to Webster officials.
In 1986, First Federal sold stock to become a public company and formed a holding company that took the name Webster, a family name of Mr. Smith's. Today Webster has $6.8 billion of assets and 83 branches. After running the bank for 52 years, Mr. Smith retired as chief executive officer in 1987. He continued serving as chairman until 1995.
Mr. Smith was buried Monday in Waterbury.