John Medlin, who helped oversee the transformation of a regional North Carolina bank into the national powerhouse Wachovia, died Thursday of a heart attack in North Carolina.
“He was a remarkable individual,” Sheffield Hale, Medlin’s son-in-law, said.“You won’t find anyone who disliked John. The respect for him is comprehensive throughout the community. I’ve never seen anybody like that. He was a fierce competitor on the one hand and widely respected on the other.”
Medlin, who was stricken while playing tennis, was 78.
Medlin began his journey toward the banking industry when he earned a B.A. in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He served in the United States Navy from 1956 to 1959 and then took a job at Wachovia, which was based in Winston-Salem, N.C. For 20 years, he worked his way up the corporate ladder. He was elected president and chief executive officer of Wachovia Corporation in 1979.
It was during his time as CEO that Wachovia expanded into Georgia, buying First Atlanta bank. By the time he retired as CEO in 1994, Wachovia had grown into a top U.S. bank. Medlin served Wachovia in other capacities until 2000, when he left the company as a renowned leader of the banking industry.
But those who knew Medlin are also remembering him as a valued family man, colleague, and friend.
“[He was] a great role model for me and his grandchildren," his son-in-law said. "He was a model father-in-law, a model father and a model CEO."
“In the past few years, I had the honor of getting to know John personally and benefit from his wisdom, humor and unfailing kindness,” Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said in a statement. Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia in 2008.
“John Medlin had a way of giving you an opinion, giving you a sense of direction, that was very compelling, but never disagreeable,” Medlin friend L. Neil Williams said. “He knew how to communicate persuasively, but to avoid doing it in a way that created bad feelings or hostility. That’s not something you see these days.”
Williams added that although he feels “terribly sad that he is gone, all of us who knew him are a whole lot better off for having known him.”
Medlin is survived by his wife Pauline Sims Medlin; daughters Elizabeth Medlin Hale and Ridgely Medlin Phillips; sister Patsy Blackman and brothers Jerry and Tracy Medlin, and five grandchildren. The family plans to hold a memorial service at 11:00 a.m. on Monday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem.
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