Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two part series on banking in Murfreesboro.
Jack Weatherford earned a Bronze Star for his wartime service with the U.S. Navy. Admiral Jonas Ingram pins the medal on the young sailor.
Murfreesboro Bank & Trust has a storied legacy in Rutherford County and even beyond; being morphed into Mid-South Bank & Trust, Third National Bank and now as SunTrust Bank.
Now I want to delve into the life and career of Jack Weatherford, whom I consider a mentor and role model; a person of character, faith, influence and benevolence.
Obviously a brief article like this one cannot detail every important part in his life, but hopefully you will get a glimpse.
Weatherford was born and reared in Columbia, Tenn.; not a great distance from Murfreesboro.
His father was hardworking and ambitious, maintaining two careers.
The day job was superintendent of mail for the United States Post Office in Columbia and a homebuilder and craftsman in the evenings and on weekends.
Weatherford’s father was prudent in his construction career.
He only built one house at a time and only with a concrete basement.
This procedure bode well for several reasons; one being financially responsible and another giving a home the appearance of a solid foundation.
The elder Weatherford was fortunate in being able to sell each home early in the construction process while some other builders were going broke during the 1930s.
As a youngster, Weatherford wanted to follow his father in the building trade.
His early responsibilities, while helping his father, included cleaning vacant lots, picking up trash and keeping the job site standing tall.
But, as he grew older, other career ideas came to mind.
After graduating from Central High School at 17 years old, and with America’s entry into World War II, Weatherford knew that he eventually would be drafted into military service.
Before that would happen, however, he wanted to get some education under his belt.
He enrolled at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; the first time to be any significant distance from his hometown.
Weatherford knew that sooner rather than later his draft number would make it to top of the list back in Maury County.
While consulting with the local Draft Board, he was told that the choice could be either enlistment with the Army or the Navy.
Being an avid swimmer, Weatherford decided that seagoing would be the better route. He joined the Navy.
Boot camp took the young 18-year-old recruit to Maryland.
After learning that the Navy had a sonar school in Key West, Fla., he put in for it and was accepted.
His military voyage included stops in Norfolk, Va. and onto the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York; the latter to be homeport.
Weatherford was assigned to an anti-submarine ship, which was part of an escort convoy for getting troops and supplies across the Atlantic to Europe.
“The first few days that we were out to sea, I was deathly sick, but I finally got my seagoing legs,” he recalled.
He remembered, “While traveling the Atlantic one night during a tremendous storm, I heard the call ‘man over board’ which was my first real introduction to the reality of war.”
Someone on the ship said, “Some parents are now without a son. Some wife is without a husband. Some child is now without a father.”
Those comments stuck in Weatherford’s mind.
The harsh reality of war was later met face-to-face when Weatherford’s ship encountered and destroyed a German submarine with enemy sailors.
When World War II ended, Weatherford began considering his career options, one being with the military.
It became obvious to him.
No matter the path chosen, he needed to get an education.
He decided right then and there to return home and finish his college education at the University of Tennessee.
While traveling one day from Knoxville to back home in Columbia, he stopped in Murfreesboro to call on a cousin who was a student at Middle Tennessee State College.
The cousin encouraged Weatherford to enroll at MTSC since it was closer to his hometown.
Ironically, it was later through the same cousin that Weatherford met the future Mrs. Weatherford, Miss Mary Earthman.
The cousin and Mary were dating.
Mary graduated from a private prep school for young ladies in Washington, D.C. while her father was a United States Congressman from the old Fourth District of Tennessee.
After returning home to Murfreesboro, she enrolled and began college life at the local institution of higher education.
One day, Weatherford’s cousin made an unusual request.
He told of his plans to enroll at the University of Oklahoma and earn a degree in aeronautical engineering.
The request: “Please watch after Mary while I am gone. She is a special lady.”
Weatherford did that and more.
His watching out for the beautiful young lady led to love, romance and marriage while both attended the local MTSC. He decided, however, to return to UT and finish his last two-years of college there in order to get a business degree.
So, the couple, now married, headed to Knoxville.
Much later while Weatherford and Mary were in Murfreesboro visiting relatives, Robert T. Bell, the president of Murfreesboro Bank & Trust, sent word to the future banker that an opportunity was available.
Weatherford was offered a whopping $150 per month to learn the financial industry through picking up the mail, reconciling bad checks, handling some of the bank’s records in addition to training for a teller position.
Weatherford was hesitant to jump at the offer.
After all, he had earned $250 per month through a side job while getting his degree at UT on the GI Bill.
His father-in-law at that point offered some thoughtful advice, “You’re not worth anything to anybody right now. Take the job and learn the banking profession. You need to get some experience.”
That was the beginning of a long career from being a teller, discount teller, assistant cashier and cashier, which put Weatherford over operations of the bank, supervising personnel and the bookkeeping.
With a strong commitment to continuing education, Weatherford spent 10 years attending banking schools while holding down his job; graduating from the prestigious Rutgers School of Banking in 1959.
It paid off as he rose through the ranks at Murfreesboro Bank & Trust; vice president in 1957, executive vice president in 1959 and a seat on the board of directors in 1960. He was elected as chairman of the bank in 1970 and later that year named the CEO.
Some readers will remember that Murfreesboro Bank & Trust was first located on the East side of the Square; moved next to the North side and then to East Main Street where the famous James K. Polk Hotel once stood.
The bank purchased the hotel for $100,000 after the property was in bad need of repairs.
That structure was razed and the current building completed around 1978.
While bringing our visit to a close, I asked Weatherford to tell me some other highlights of his illustrious banking career.
I enjoyed hearing them all, but there was one story that really got my attention.
In his young married life, he felt God’s calling to Christian service.
His immediate thoughts were to be a missionary in some place such as Africa or a third world country.
He said that Mary was willing to follow him to the far ends of the world if necessary. The matter weighed heavily on their hearts.
Weatherford remembered, “After a lot of prayer by both of us, it was as if the Lord spoke to me with clarity from the Bible: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men. (Colossians 3: 23 the King James Version).
“From that day on, I went to work with an attitude that I was there to please the Lord and to be a blessing to others.
I never again had a doubt about what I should do or where I was supposed to be.”
In closing, I admit to having a bias concerning Jack Weatherford while knowing that no mortal is perfect.
But, I believe that Weatherford has spent most of his adult life working as unto the Lord. MP