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Real 'Wonderful Life' as Banker Ending

December 14, 1997|DENTON GIBBES | REUTERS

MENDENHALL, Miss. — For Sidney Davis, who retires Friday from Peoples Bank , it really is a wonderful life--and he has a story to match the Christmas classic.

Davis, 83, was a bookkeeper on June 4, 1933, when nervous investors stampeded banks across the United States to try to withdraw their savings in one of the dark episodes of the Great Depression.

Actor Jimmy Stewart's portrayal of banker George Bailey, who dipped into his own pockets to prevent his thrift institution from closing in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," has little on Davis, who personally kept Peoples Bank from closing.

"Dad is not real open about it," said son Phillip Davis, now a bank president. "The closing notice was typed to be put on the door and my father grabbed it from the hand of his boss that day and locked it in the lockbox."

"This bank is not closing," Sid Davis told his boss, and that was that. Peoples Bank stayed open and soon after, Phillip Davis said, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was established and the boss was dismissed.

At the time, Sid Davis was a bookkeeper. It was his job to post all withdrawals and deposits to the accounts of customers. He did it by hand.

"He is probably the last active banker in America who played a significant role in keeping a bank open during the bank holiday of 1933," said Phillip Davis.

"Like the fictional George Bailey, he refused to shut down the bank on that dark day when more banks closed in America than any day before or since. And, like George Bailey's bank, Peoples Bank survived the crash and prospered," the younger Davis said.

Today, Peoples Bank has more than $113 million in assets.

Sid Davis, who is retiring because emphysema left him too weak to work, did not set out to be a banker.

He was 18 when he graduated from college in 1932 with a degree in chemistry, but jobs were scarce. Davis was hired as a part-time fill-in at Peoples Bank. When a bank teller got caught trying to cash a customer's check at a bank in another state, Davis was given her job.

He was named bank president in 1952 and chairman of the board in 1980. Along the way, he bought stock in People's Bank, which largely became a family enterprise, and now Phillip and his brother, Sid Jr., share the bank presidency.

"Everyone in town is invited" to his retirement party, Phillip Davis said.

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