After a 37-year-banking career, Meridian Bancorp's president and chief operating officer, Ezekiel S. "Zeke" Ketchum, is calling it quits, the company said Friday.

Mr. Ketchum, 59, plans to retire next May. Aside from his corporate role, he was also the president and chief executive officer of the Reading, Pa.-based bank's lead subsidiary, Meridian Bank, its Delaware Trust Co., and Meridian Bank New Jersey.

"His main forte has been building or running the commercial banking operations, and that's where his greatest strength has been...He's going to retire a hero," Sam McCullough, Meridian's chairman and chief executive officer, said in an interview.

Mr. McCullough added that he has already begun a nationwide search to replace the bank's No. 2 man. He said it is possible he might give some of Mr. Ketchum's duties to insiders, but considering how many bankers are victims of consolidation: "I think it's incumbent upon us to look and see who else is out there.

"We will review and analyze the many roles and responsibilities Zeke has held within the company to ensure they are organized in the most effective and beneficial way," Mr. McCullough said.

The most likely candidates to replace Mr. Ketchum from the office of the chairman are vice chairman and chief financial officer David Sparks, 50, and William Fenimore, also 50, the chief technology officer and head of strategic planning.

Mr. Ketchum's shoes may not be easy to fill. "He's been a strong commercial banker and over the years the commercial bank has been the one major source of stability in the company in the face of very volatile earnings in the nonbank subsidiaries," said Denis Laplante, a banking analyst with Fox-Pitt Kelton.

Mr. McCullough said he has known about Mr. Ketchum's intentions for some time.

"He's just ready after 37 years in the business," Mr. McCullough said. Early in their careers, Mr. McCullough and Mr. Ketchum worked together at Mellon Bank Corp.

In nearly 17 years at Meridian, Mr. Ketchum has served as president, since 1982, and chief operating officer since 1988. He joined Meridian from American Bank and Trust Co. of Pennsylvania.

Although it is somewhat unusual for a second-in-command, Mr. Ketchum kept a low profile on Wall Street, rarely, if ever, coming to New York to meet with analysts.

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