James H. Higgins, chairman and chief executive officer of Mellon Bank and Mellon National Corp. from 1974 to 1981, died after a short illness on Saturday. He was 82.

"He was a true visionary who had a lasting impact on Mellon," said Frank V. Cahouet, chairman and CEO of Mellon Bank Corp. "He was one of the first to recognize the impact technology would have on the banking industry."

Mr. Higgins joined Mellon in 1951 as an assistant vice president. He was named a vice president in 1954, a senior vice president in 1965, and executive vice president in 1968. He retired as chairman in 1981 but served on the board until 1984.

During Mr. Higgins' tenure as chief executive, Mellon's assets increased to $16.1 billion from $9.9 billion.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., and raised in Sewickley, Pa., Mr. Higgins received a bachelor's degree in economics from Yale in 1939. He worked at Bank of Manhattan Co. in New York before joining the Navy in 1941 as an ensign.

In World War II, Mr. Higgins was part of the Navy's amphibious forces during the invasions of Sicily, Salerno, Italy, and Omaha Beach in Normandy. He was released from active duty in 1945 and received an honorable discharge as a lieutenant commander.

A year later Mr. Higgins returned to Bank of Manhattan as assistant treasurer before moving to Mellon.

Mr. Higgins is survived by his wife, Elysabeth Barbour Higgins, one sister, a son, two daughters, and three grandchildren.

A private service will be held today at the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley, Pa.

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