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A.A. Milligan dies at 94; community banker in Ventura County

A.A. Milligan, who ran the Bank of A. Levy in Oxnard from 1955 to 1982, grew the institution and maintained its customers' loyalty. He died Nov. 3 at 94.

November 14, 2011|By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • A.A. "Bud" Milligan, former president of the Bank of A. Levy, seen in 1977. When the bank was sold in 1994 and the family left its offices for the last time, he said, "Do you supposed they would mind if I just stayed here?" his son recalled. Milligan died Nov. 3 at age 94.
A.A. "Bud" Milligan, former president of the Bank of A. Levy,…

As president of Bank of A. Levy, then the largest independent bank in Ventura County, A.A. "Bud" Milligan warned customers in 1977 of the perils of casual credit, famously announcing: "One card is enough."

To those who already held two bank-issued cards, he offered a counterintuitive solution, for the leader of a financial institution — destroy one, even if it meant tossing the one from his bank.

He was the grandson of Achille Levy, who founded the bank in the early 1880s, and Milligan thrived in the small-town environment that allowed him to be a "town banker," which meant that he cast himself as both a community leader and a problem solver, his family said.

Milligan, president of the bank from 1955 to 1982, died Nov. 3 from complications of pneumonia at a skilled-nursing facility in Santa Barbara, his family said. He was 94.

When Arthur Achille Milligan was born in Oxnard in 1917, his grandfather announced that "the boy will follow me into the banking business," according to family lore.

A French immigrant, Levy was an agricultural broker who hunted for a crop that would flourish in the county. His success was reflected in his bank's nickname: "The house the lima bean built."

"My grandfather ran the bank as a one-man show," Milligan told The Times in 1977. "Every night before going home, he would look at each of the checks cashed that day to see what his customers were doing with their money."

After Achille died in 1922, his son Joseph — who was Milligan's uncle — ran the bank until he died in 1955, when Milligan took over.

Milligan had joined the bank in 1940 as a bookkeeper after earning a bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford University.

During World War II, he spent three years in the Navy, served on a destroyer in the North Atlantic and returned to the bank in 1945.

Under his direction, the Oxnard-based institution grew to five times the size it had been in the 1950s and had a history of customer loyalty that reached back to the Depression.

Although many Ventura County landowners had failed to pay their monthly mortgages, the bank never foreclosed on them, carrying many customers for years, Milligan said in the 1977 Times interview.

When the Boy Scouts of Ventura County honored Milligan in 1982 with its Golden Condor award for public service, a Times article noted that he was involved with at least nine community organizations and often ran them.

His efforts included co-founding a Ventura County co-op dedicated to helping freeze and market vegetables grown on the Oxnard Plain.

He marked his 65th birthday by turning the bank presidency over to his son Marshall. His other son, Michael, was chairman of the bank's board.

When the Bank of A. Levy was sold to First Interstate for $86.5 million in stock in 1994, Marshall lamented in The Times that community banking was going "the way of blacksmiths and butcher shops."

Colleagues had praised the statesmanship of the soft-spoken Milligan, who was always called by his childhood nickname, Bud. His ability to communicate with just the right phrase was in evidence when the family left the bank's offices for the last time.

"He sort of looked up and wondered out loud," Marshall recalled, " 'Do you suppose they would mind if I just stayed here?' "

Milligan's wife of 55 years, Jeanne, died in 1998.

In addition to his sons, Marshall of Santa Barbara and Michael of Bainbridge Island, Wash., Milligan is survived by three granddaughters.

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