Ed Penick, former CEO of Worthen Bank and a 2005 inductee into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, was laid to rest today after services at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock. He was 92.
Penick began working in 1948 for Worthen Bank, which had been founded by his maternal grandfather, William B. Worthen. His father, James Penick, was president. Ed Penick became president in 1961 at the age of 39, CEO in 1966, and served as chairman from 1974 to 1983.
Penick recognized early that the trend in banking was to provide more services through bigger institutions. In 1964, Worthen merged with Bank of Arkansas, and Worthen later moved into a new 25-story building in Little Rock. In 1968, First Arkansas Bankstock Corporation, or FABCO, was created under his leadership to serve as the bank’s holding company. In 1983, Worthen became the first publicly traded Arkansas bank. It became the state’s largest public financial institution with 12 banks and nine financial services companies.
Penick introduced marketing techniques still in use today, including extended hours on Friday and the Worthen Charge Account Service, an early credit card. He and other bankers helped pass state legislation allowing banks to open branches in the same city.
Worthen Bank was bought by Boatmen’s Bancshares in 1994 for $595 million and is now part of Bank of America.
Penick also was a community leader who served as president of the Community Chest, the predecessor of the United Way. He was president or chairman of the state chapter of the American Heart Association, the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the state chapter of Ducks Unlimited, and the state chapter of the Radio Free Europe fund, which supported a network of transmitters broadcasting into Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Penick’s banking accomplishments were scarcely mentioned during his funeral service. As his remains rested in a flag-draped coffin, his son Charles Penick and granddaughter Evelyn Miles Wade recounted other aspects of his life story. In World War II, Penick flew a P-38 photo reconnaissance plane in China. Charles Penick noted the appropriateness that his patriotic father had died on Flag Day June 14.
He was a devoted father of four, grandfather of 10, and great-grandfather of 18. Miles fondly recalled the numerous vacations the extended family spent together. On trips to the lake, he would make the grandchildren spend their mornings working around the lakehouse, exhorting them to “Be happy in your work” before skiing and playing on the water that afternoon. At the end of their weeks together, Penick would make his children sing patriotic songs. When family members were searching for important papers in a large lockbox, they instead found his grandchildren’s report cards and letters.
“We were his prized possessions,” Wade said.