Angus “Gus” Harrison, a former chairman of the board of storied Coconut Grove Bank who oversaw its growth from a single neighborhood branch, died Saturday after a brief illness. He was 87.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Harrison, a Miami native, joined the bank in 1972 as a vice president and rose to CEO and then chairman of the board. He is credited with helping turn the quaint bank founded in 1926 into a popular institution keeping step with larger, multi-branch banks.
Banking wasn’t his first profession. He had a 23-year career in the Navy, where he attained the rank of commander, followed by 16 years with Merrill Lynch before returning home to work at Coconut Grove Bank, first as a vice president and eventually taking over his father’s leadership role.
“He put a premium on the safety of depositors’ accounts and that was reflected in consistent five-star ratings for the bank,” said Charles Umberger, a former Coconut Grove Bank executive who is now president and CEO of Old Town Bank in North Carolina. “Gus was known among Florida bankers for running a tight ship. He was respected by employees and well-liked by all his customers.”
The bank, which first opened on Main Highway and Fuller Street by Harrison’s father, was a local institution, surviving competition and even the Great Depression.
“For decades, Grove residents were very loyal to the bank,” local historian Arva Moore Parks said. “That was their bank and the Harrison family was very well-known in the community.’’
In the 1970s, as the banking industry was evolving, Harrison personally recorded local radio commercials that put what he called his “little bank in the Grove” on the map at its current home at 2701 S. Bayshore Dr. Other branches followed.
“Gus knew how to speak from the heart directly to the people. He was a folksy, genuine guy and employees and customers really trusted him,” said Howard Tanger, owner of Beethoven.com and WTMI-FM, one of the stations where Harrison recorded ads.
Harrison is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter Deborah Harrison White, sons Jeffery, Gregory and Angus III; and grandchildren McKenzie Caroline and Spencer Banks.
Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a service at the Van Orsdel Kendall Chapel, 11220 N. Kendall Dr.