Ruby Wimberley goes to Washington D.C

Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 3, 2019

From staff reports


Mrs. Ruby Wimberley began her career in the banking industry in 1960 as one of four employees of Orange Savings and Loan.

She retired 39 years later as president and chief executive officer of Orange Savings Bank.  She continued to serve the bank as a director until 2013 when the bank was merged with First Financial Bank.

A picture of the Holland Hotel, the first home for the bank, hangs on the wall in the conference room.

“Granddaddy never talked about the bank because he was too busy with Piggly Wiggly, but he mentioned Ruby often,” said Chairman of the Board of the Southeast Region of FFIN Tommy Gunn.

Gunn, a local attorney, is the grandson of one of the original directors of the Orange Savings and Loan and he now serves as Chairman of the Board of First Financial Bank in Orange.

Wimberley took on many roles in the beginning.  She was hired as an administrative assistant to the CEO but she quickly became a loan officer and in 1984 was named CEO of the thrift.  Under her direction, the bank experienced tremendous growth.

Wimberley led the way during the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.  Although Orange Savings and Loan did well during the crisis, many S&Ls did not.

At one time, Orange Savings and Loan only did home mortgages.  With the failure of so many S&Ls, legislation was being considered prohibiting such organizations from doing mortgages.

Wimberley went to Washington D.C. to testify before the committee considering the legislation which eventually failed.

Customers spoke and the bank listened. Drive-thru lanes at the new location have wider aisles to accommodate modern vehicles.

During the crisis, Orange Savings and Loan was the only entity in Orange and Jefferson offering home mortgage loans.

First Financial Bank has served the Orange community from a variety of locations.  At one point, they resided at Front and 7th Street.  Although it was a good location they had to move.  That location is where the Lutcher Theatre currently hosts live productions.

Current President and CEO Stephen Lee had a rough start.  His first day on the job with Orange Savings Bank a robbery occurred at their McLewis branch.  Nothing particularly noteworthy resulted from the robbery. But, it did give Lee a momentary pause regarding his new role.

Lee strayed from the beaten path when coming up with a way to promote the bank.

He proposed his idea, a flying pig, to trusted allies.  Many were skeptical, but he launched the campaign.

The campaign was a huge success.

“People still send me pictures of flying pigs,” said Lee in a meeting in January 2019.

After graduating from Lamar University with a degree in finance, Lee obtained a job with an independent bank in Dallas as a credit analyst. But, after a few years in North Texas, Lee was ready for a change.

President and CEO Stephen Lee sits in his new office at the First Financial Bank’s newest location at the corner of Park Ave. and 16th Street in Orange.

“I always knew I wanted to come back home to Orange,” Lee added. “After I got married, I finally got my chance and was hired by Darby Byrd at First Heights Bank, which, at the time, was the largest bank in Orange.”

Byrd left First Heights Bank two weeks later, but in 2008, when he retired from Orange Savings Bank Lee was hired to replace him.

While many people know Lee through his role at First Financial Bank and his involvement in the community, many people may be unaware Lee was a highly successful football player at Lamar University.

“I weighed nearly 300 pounds when I played at Lamar,” Lee said. “I was a little bit on the healthier side. I was also the last All-American football player to come from Lamar University before the program was discontinued in 1989.”

First Financial Bank has recently moved to a new location at 16th Street and Park.  But they have been an integral part of Orange since 1960.

The new location offers amenities for its customers, such as wider drive-thru lanes.

“The wider lanes in the Drive Thru are because our customers expressed a concern,” Lee said. “This was built for our customers and the community. We designed it to accommodate them not us.”

One can access the drive-thru area by 16th Street, Park Ave. or Cherry Street.

And to always remember where it began, there is a picture of its original location – the Holland Hotel, hanging on the wall in the conference room.