The second-floor conference room is filled with keepsakes, including a photo of the historical marker designating where 25 Tar Heels gathered in 1897 at the Atlantic Hotel in Morehead City to form the North Carolina Bankers Association. But Thad Woodard, the Raleigh-based group's longtime president and CEO, focuses on a memento of failure. "The seal of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Greensboro," he says. "We had to put a brace in the wall to hold it up. You and your brothers couldn't lift that."
It weighs heavy on his mind, too, because in 1977--a year before he became president of North Carolina Savings and Loan League Inc., which later merged with the bankers association--the regional office, one of 12 in the nation overseeing thrifts, moved to Atlanta, taking with it the Gate City's designation as a financial center. "Had I been there, I swear to you, I would have laid down in front of that moving van. We would have fought tooth and toenail to the bloody finish to keep that Federal Home Loan Bank in Greensboro."
Ray Grace doesn't doubt it. "He has a very rare knack," North Carolina's commissioner of banks says. "That's the ability to never take no for an answer. Once Thad gets his foot in the door, he's relentless." Even at home, Grace can't escape him. "Oftentimes, when I wake up in the morning and turn on the morning news as I'm getting ready to go to work, I will see Thad in my bedroom." (It's usually a commercial for Warmth for Wake, a partnership between NCBA and Wake County that provides heating fuel for low-income households.) Soon, however, Woodard will depart Grace's boudoir for good.
On Jan. 1, Woodard, who's 68, will retire after 37 years as lead lobbyist for financial institutions in the state. He's less than thrilled about it. "I hate that, I just hate it. Hell, I'm old. But I'm 18 years old inside my body. I'm looking at you right now, thinking, 'Don't I look like Spencer?"'
Woodard was born in Raleigh, where his father was chief federal probation officer for eastern North Carolina before being appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the U.S. Parole Commission, thanks to the pull of North Carolina's two senators, Sam Ervin and B. Everett Jordan. After graduating from Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer, he chauffeured Greensboro businessman Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles --father of former Clinton administration chief of staff and UNC president Erskine Bowles--who was preparing to run for governor in 1972. Bowles, a Democrat, would...