Melanie Dressel, the longtime president and CEO of Columbia Banking System, died Sunday.

She was 64.

Dressel took the helm of Columbia, of Tacoma, Wash., in 2003. At the time Columbia had assets of $2 billion, but over the next dozen or so years Dressel led the bank through 10 acquisitions, including several failed-bank deals after the 2008 financial crisis.

The company had assets of $9.5 billion at the end of 2016, with branches across the Pacific Northwest. In January, Columbia announced another deal , for the $2.5 billion-asset Pacific Continental Corp. in Eugene, Ore.

In addition to transforming Columbia and navigating it through the financial crisis, Dressel was an industry leader.

As one of the few women leading a community bank, Dressel spoke frequently about her experience in banking and the opportunity women have to succeed in the male-dominated industry.
As one of the few women leading a community bank, Dressel spoke frequently about her experience in banking and the opportunity women have to succeed in the male-dominated industry.

In 2011, American Banker honored Dressel as one of three Community Bankers of the Year. She has also long been listed in the Most Powerful Women in Banking ranking.

As one of the few women leading a community bank, Dressel spoke frequently about her experience in banking and the opportunity women have to succeed in the male-dominated industry.

“One of the encouraging differences I have felt over my almost 40-year career is that women have become emboldened,” Dressel wrote in a 2013 BankThink post. “There seems to be less of a need to live up to someone else's expectations and more confidence to follow our own paths.”

Dressel’s death was announced by William Weyerhaeuser, Columbia’s chairman, on Monday.

“I am saddened to share we have been informed by Melanie Dressel's family that our beloved president and CEO passed away last night,” Weyerhaeuser said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this difficult time. The board of directors and our management team are working closely together to ensure a smooth and effective transition. Further details will be available in the coming days."

According to the Seattle Times, Dressel is survived by her husband, Robert Dressel Jr.; sons Robert Dressel III (wife Kara Dressel) and Brent Dressel (wife Sophia Dressel); and two grandchildren.

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