There’s a demur grace to Rosemary Wigington, an attribute that supports her ability to command respect in boardrooms and through complex commercial lending negotiations. That grace is evident in spades when she maneuvers an industrial site groundbreaking in heels.
Wigington recently retired from a successful career in banking, 27 years of which was spent at First Tennessee.
She enjoyed the mechanics of a good business deal, but she’ll miss the people the most, she said. Her reputation is one of being able to sense the correct approach to take with individuals, no matter their backgrounds and she has a laser focus when it comes to calculating risks and potential.
The risk-reward acumen, along with the distinctive accent, began forming at a young age in Selma, Alabama.
“When I was a child, my father owned an ACE Hardware store downtown and at the end of the day, I walked across the street to the bank with him, every day, and I was just always impressed with the people at the bank. That’s kind of what I wanted to do,” Wigington said. “The tellers all wore uniforms at that time. They had monogrammed shift dresses and I was very impressed by that. I was 15-years-old, when my dad helped me open up a savings account over there, and so I would work at Christmas and he would make me put my earnings into savings.
“So, when I became a senior in high school, I was able to buy my first car from that savings account. I guess, from the beginning, I’ve had a mathematical mind and I love the time-value of money.”
Selma was actually a larger community when Rosemary was a child. She was raised the youngest of three daughters; her older siblings are a retired school teacher and a clerk in an attorney’s office. Her father was the oldest of six children; her mother was the youngest of five girls.
“They grew up in the same community,” Wigington said. “After WWII, when he came home, they got married. So, the small community they grew up in has a lot of southern history; it’s a different culture in a lot of ways, but it’s a good culture.”
The journey from Selma to Morristown began with education; she attended Troy University in southeast Alabama and met her first husband there. After he graduated, they would marry and move to his hometown of Mobile — “he was two years older,” Wigington said, and she was offered a job in the international department of First National Bank.
“That’s where it all began, when I was 21 years old,” she said. “It was a clerical position, but I learned so much about international banking that has been beneficial to me here in Morristown, to tell you the truth.”
While in Mobile, Wigington finished her degree at the University of South Alabama and became a credit analyst for First National that was eventually purchased by AMSouth. She opted to work for a community bank, a move that offered her a variety of job potential.
“My goal all along was to be a commercial lender, which I did at that bank. One of my friends, who had been a banker with First National, called and asked if I would like to be a commercial loan officer for First Tennessee. They had an opening in Knoxville. I said, ‘Where is Knoxville?’ I never thought I would leave the deep south,” Wigington said. “My friend told me, ‘You don’t have a decision to make, unless someone makes you an offer.’”
As it turns out, she interviewed for the position with Tony Thompson, the brother of Morristown oncologist, Tim Thompson (“It’s a small world,” she said) and Pam Fansler, who recently retired as the Knoxville market president. She was offered the job, due in no small part Pam told her later, to her sensibility with regards to sizing up people and situations.
Wigington held a variety of jobs with First Tennessee, which led her to the bucket list position of commercial/corporate lender. She began working with industries in Morristown, along with First Tennesee community bank presidents Andy Smith and Brett Habegger. Once Habegger moved on, she was recommended to take his place. She didn’t have to ask where Morristown was, but she did make one unexpected discovery upon the arrival in her new town in 2009: no Starbucks.
“That was a devastating experience,” she said. “Now we have a Starbucks and so much more, here.”
Part of that “more” would be a second chance at love. She and Jody Wigington, general manager of Morristown Utility Systems, have been married for seven years. All told, there are five adult children, several spouses and eight grandchildren that will occupy any spare time Wigington may have now.
She will still remain active, especially on the industrial development board, led by R. Jack Fishman.
“I have really enjoyed the business recruiting aspect of that board,” Wigington said. “Bankers like to get a good deal; it’s the same philosophy.”
She has served on the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors since 2009 and has been an active member of, and served as president of, Morristown Rotary-Noon Club. She will also remain active on the board of the Helen Ross McNabb Center and will continue volunteering with the United Way of Hamblen County.
Her main objective, now, is to figure out what retirement is.
“I’ve been working since I was 15, so I’m just going to enjoy whatever today brings,” Wigington said.
Her mother is 97 now, so she’ll visit her in Alabama and has already opened herself up to helping with grandchildren, along with helping her youngest daughter decorate a new house. Jody and she will travel as much as possible — and she’s had the piano tuned she bought as a young adult. She played all through high school.
“I may start that up again. And I have ideas of taking some of the courses offered at Walters State, maybe art, maybe culinary — whatever I feel like doing. I’m going to be five years old again and play all day,” she said.
There was no formal retirement celebration at the bank. Wigington preferred not to get emotional about the end of the 10-year relationships she built there; although she admitted that leaving her longtime assistant Karen Bolten caused tears to be shed in the days prior.
She is matter-of-fact about the success of her career, including her role as the leader of the Morristown location.
“It was easy, because I had been with the bank for so long,” Wingington said. “I was also in correspondent banking, which meant we banked other banks. I had been dealing with CEOs and CFOs of other banks for about nine years of that career, so it felt like a comfortable transition. I had been a commercial lender all of that time. So I had the commercial experience and the knowledge of what the community bank leader was supposed to look like.”
Successor Tim Coley has been working with Wigington for about a year and a half. They have volunteer roles within the United Way in common.
The ‘nitty-gritty’ on their working relationship is mutual respect.
“I’m saddened; I would have like to have had the opportunity to work with Rosemary a bit longer,” Coley said.
“Tim brings a wealth of knowledge with him,” Wigington said. “He’s had experience in the business of industry here, and he knows a lot of what our industrial companies do and, given that we are an industrial city, that knowledge is very valuable to us. In addition, Tim is a CPA and he continues to keep his license current; and that is very beneficial to us here. I look forward to seeing him take it to the next level.”
Coley addressed the challenge of walking the ground Wigington has covered in those heels.
“She has already taken it to very lofty levels,” Coley said.