Longtime Synovus executive Calvin Smyre said Monday he is retiring Dec. 31 from the banking firm, but has yet to decide if he will call it a career as well in the Georgia General Assembly, where he is the longest-serving active legislator.
“This will be starting my 41st year and friends are pushing me to stay” in the legislature and seek re-election, said Smyre, a Democrat who was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1974, its youngest member at age 27.
“I’ve got to research this to make sure,” he said. “This will be my 41st and 42nd year, and I know Tom Murphy and Bill Lee served 42 years. I’m told they were the longest-serving members in the history of the General Assembly for consecutive service.”
Smyre, 67, said this is definitely the time to step away from his 38-year career at Synovus and its division, Columbus Bank and Trust. He rose from manager trainee at CB&T in 1976 to executive vice president of corporate affairs at Synovus, the position he holds today.
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“It’s with mixed emotions because I’ve been here for a long time ... It’s a long haul,” he said. “But it’s been a good one, and it’s one that I cherish over the years because, from day one, I loved what I did here at Synovus and CB&T. And, hopefully, I’ve created a lot of goodwill for the company, which has just been a great partner for me.”
Smyre said he had originally planned to retire from the regional bank four years ago, but had been asked by Synovus Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kessel Stelling to remain. The Columbus-based banking firm has gone through some tough financial times in recent years amid the Great Recession, restructuring its business and downsizing its work force.
“It’s a compliment to Synovus and the CB&T family, it’s been a great partnership, and they both have complemented one another — my political career and my Synovus position — and I’ve been able to do it and balance that for 38 years,” he said.
Aside from manager trainee, Smyre also held positions as assistant vice president and marketing officer at CB&T, and then senior vice president and assistant to the chairman for community affairs. He has held his current position since 1999, and is former president of the Synovus Foundation, and is a former member of the bank’s corporate executive group.
Stelling, in a statement, expressed gratitude for Smyre’s contributions to the bank, the community and the state of Georgia.
“We will miss Calvin’s leadership and valued insight, but we will continue to enjoy a great partnership and benefit from his commitment to build relationships that enhance our company and the communities we serve,” the CEO said.
Smyre said he plans to remain active in the local community. He has been a committee chairman for the Fountain City Classic for 25 years, helping set up the annual football clash in Columbus between Albany State University and Fort Valley State University. The effort has included working to help students with scholarships, mentoring and developing young leaders.
“I have a passion for helping students attend college or university,” said Smyre, a 1970 Fort Valley State graduate. “To me, that’s one of the keys to a better quality of life ... Education, to me, is the escalator to upward mobility.”
The retiring executive also said he hopes to work on something he has had in the “proposal” stage for some time. It’s called Project HELP, he said, the acronym standing for “help eliminate lower poverty” through education.
Smyre pointed out his Synovus career was heavily connected to community activity and working on charitable causes through the Synovus Foundation. That element of philanthropic work will continue, he said.
“I’ll still be involved in the community, and providing resources with various fund-raisers and things of that nature,” he said. “So I don’t see the routine changing much in that regard.”
Smyre also noted that when he started his career with Columbus Bank and Trust, Synovus oversaw assets of about $180 million. That stands at roughly $26 billion today.
“I’ve seen the company go through a lot and grow. It’s just been a good ride, and Synovus is a great company. I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been,” he said, thanking the bank’s management and his colleagues.