He was plain old Jimmy, a convivial fellow you ran into eating ribs at Mike & Ed's, a civic-minded leader who helped air-condition our schools, a businessman who turned a small town bank into a regional powerhouse and a boss who built a work place on the culture of the heart.
Then, like the character in the fairy tale, Synovus took a great fall. Stock prices tumbled. Home loans were questioned. Leaders fell from grace and longtime workers lost their jobs. Federal bailouts were required and the old way of doing business had to be changed.
When earnings plummeted so did the pedestal on which so many of us had put Jimmy Blanchard.
Now comes the settlement of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Documents connected to that case stain his legacy.
In 2009, the economy was in recession and banks like Synovus were struggling. That same year a group of investors went to court to question $200 million in bad loans made to Bill Jones III, CEO of Sea Island and a golfing and hunting buddy of Blanchard, then the head of Synovus.
Jones wanted to turn Sea Island -- a fixture on the Georgia coast since 1928 -- into the "Pebble Beach of the East," so he turned to his banker and good friend.
Lawsuits complained those loans were approved with "a golf course handshake." The Sea Is
land Co. went bankrupt in 2010 and was sold for $212.4 million.
Bloomberg.com has reported that federal Judge J. Owen Forrester called those complaints "probably the worst set of allegations I've ever seen in a securities case."
Forrester will conduct a hearing on the settlement Feb. 26 in Atlanta. Meanwhile, similar suits are pending.
Synovus denies the allegations regarding the loans but connections were indisputable. Blanchard owned a home at Sea Island and was on the board there while Jones was a Synovus director.
Blanchard is no longer on the Synovus board. Nor is Jones. Under terms of the settlement, board members can no longer approve loans, though Synovus discounts that change. Synovus is also consolidating its banks under a single charter following allegations that the Sea Island loan was masked among various Synovus properties.
But the style of business that this suit exposes should not be shocking. Synovus was founded on relationships, and loans to customers and friends such as Bill Heard Jr. were eerily similar to Sea Island. When Heard's car dealerships went under in 2008, Synovus was left holding $53.8 million in loans, including a hefty mortgage on Heard's palatial Green Island mansion.
Even those disclosures shouldn't diminish how Blanchard's charismatic leadership inspired Synovus and this community. He was at the core of every positive event of his generation. To colleagues he preached over and over the importance basic principles, using the football analogy of blocking and tackling.
Competing against him was like competing against the tide. He was always coming in. He stressed the fundamentals, but in the end it may have been Jimmy Blanchard who forgot how to block and tackle.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.