SouthTrust Corp. president and chief operating officer Roy W. Gilbert Jr. said he plans to retire in February, a move that leaves the Birmingham, Ala.-based bank without a clear No. 2 executive or heir-apparent to chairman and CEO Wallace D. Malone Jr.

Mr. Gilbert, 57, said in a published statement that he plans to "spend more time with my family, family business interests, and civic endeavors." In a telephone interview, Mr. Malone added that Mr. Gilbert also suffered from migraine headaches.

"He just has a lot of things he wants to do, and the sand in the hourglass is running out," said Mr. Malone, who is 58. "It's a surprise to everybody but me because he talked to me months and months ago."

Mr. Malone said he expects Mr. Gilbert to stay on for several years as a consultant.

"He'll maintain an office in the company, and he'll be in here, off and on, probably a good bit," Mr. Malone said.

In the short term, Mr. Gilbert's duties as president and chief operating officer will be divided among other SouthTrust executives at the holding company level.

"Long term, that position obviously will be replaced. But there are no plans in the foreseeable future to replace that function," Mr. Malone said.

Mr. Gilbert spent 35 years at SouthTrust, beginning in 1959 as a manager trainee at predecessor Birmingham Trust National Bank.

When Birmingham Trust merged with several other banks to form SoutTrust in 1972, Mr. Gilbert became an executive vice president in the holding company. He was named to his current post in 1986.

Mr. Gilbert's departure leaves open the succession question at SouthTrust, which has $17 billion of assets. The top four holding company executives under Mr. Malone have each been with SouthTrust a decade or more and are in roughly the same age bracket.

"We have no heir apparent designated in this company," Mr. Malone said, adding, "I'm not concerned about it at this time. We have a number of strong players inside this company."

Analysts speculating about a successor tend to look below the top layer.

Two possibilities: Julian W. Banton, 54, chairman, president, and CEO of the lead Brimingham bank, or E. Frank Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt, 53, was recently promoted from head of the Mobile bank subsidiary to manage all of SouthTrust's Alabama banks outside of Birmingham.

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