Reba Stewart has spent 60 years in the banking industry.
When it comes to movers and shakers who work behind the scenes, Reba Stewart of Albany has to be near the top of the list.
Born one of 10 children, Stewart learned at a young age the value of kindness; the importance of compassion and the divinely-inspired joy of caring for others.
Those traits have carried her through 60 years of marriage and more than 60 years in a ever-changing banking business.
In a recent interview with Herald reporter J.D. Sumner, Stewart talks about life in the banking industry, her reliance on God and the most important things young people need to keep in mind when pursuing a corporate job.
Q: What was your first job?
A: The first job I had was back, maybe when I was nine or 10 years old, and a lady across the street whose family worked at Palmyra Hosiery Mill, had a young child that was five years old. I kept that child in the summer and cooked, with the grandmother’s help, for that family to come home to dinner in the evening.
NAME: Reba Stewart
YEARS ON THE JOB: 60 in the banking industry.
PERSONAL: Married to Emmett Stewart, has one daughter and two grandchildren.
Q: How much were you paid and what did you buy with your first paycheck?
A. You know, I don’t remember but I’m sure it was maybe a dollar for the whole week, not much, but I’m sure I bought myself something from downtown. I don’t know what, but living with a bunch of children in my family, we didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend so I’m sure I bought something I really wanted.
Q: What were some of your earlier jobs?
A: I’ve only worked at three after that baby-sitting job and cooking. I worked at Silvers Five-and-10 when I was 13 years-old, and I started off down at the candy counter waiting on people who would come in to buy candy. And then, in about six or eight months, the manager of the store asked me to move upstairs to the office. I felt so flattered that he asked me to move up to the office. There I worked with two ladies that just taught me so much. Back then, we had layaway programs and I had to take the money and post it on the cards and balance that layaway program and I even learned how to do their payroll. I managed the payroll — that was part of my job, wherein I took all the hours people worked, their hourly rate, took out their taxes and then went to the bank to get the money to make the payroll and then I had to come back and put each payroll in a separate envelope for the right individual and at the end I had to have no money left, so I had to balance that payroll. I learned so much in that office during the four years I went to high school.
Q: Have you had any mentors or guides along your professional career?
A: First of all, there was a woman who ran the Kiwanis Clinic in Albany many years ago and her name was Mrs. Thompson. She kind of took me under her wing and allowed me to go in the summertime. They took out tonsils at this clinic and helped poor children and so she nurtured me during the summer and helped me do that. And then I have a long-time teacher that I just absolutely adore. She’s 100 years old and she’s still living. Her name is Mrs. Helen Cordell. I saw her last week, and she is just delightful. And then in my career I have had many people who have been an inspiration to me who I have learned so much from. I can recall my C&S days — it was C&S then instead of Bank of America — Glenn Creech, who is still currently a banker, and many others. Now I have Chris Misamore, who is my superior here. I learn something every day. They’ve been an inspiration to try and make me a better banker and a better professional.
Q: What three items would you like to have if you were stranded on an island?
A: Well, I know first of all I would take my Bible with me. I’d like my cellphone so I could have communication with people and probably like to have a pad and pencil so I could make notes.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I have two grandchildren; I have a husband who is ill, I’ve been married to him for 60 years so I’m a caretaker. I love being able to do that and being strong enough to do that. But our daughter, Leslie, lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and that’s what I really enjoy doing; spending time with the children. I love to read. I walk every day. I have a pedometer I use to see how many steps I’ve taken and I upload that every night to the computer. And I just enjoy being with people. I’m just inspired to be with people and I love being involved in the community. “
Q: What advice would you have for someone who is on the cusp of entering your field?
A: You know, our younger people now don’t feel as committed about a job. They’re more committed to a paycheck. But we’ve got to take that position and make the most of it and do the best we can every day. If we can get that through the minds and heads of our young people, it’s going to be a better world, I feel. Don’t just expect a paycheck, but really earn that paycheck.
Q: If you could go back and change something about your professional life, what would it be?
A: If I could go back, I wish that I had the money, when I graduated had the money when I graduated high school, to go to college. That’s one thing, to really earn a degree.
I’ve had a lot of educational training in my career; at C&S and Bank of America, because they were outstanding with their program of training in the bank and I would’ve loved to have been able to have done that as a young child.
Now some of my brothers and sisters have gone on to college and, ironically, I was married when they were in college so my husband and I were able to sort of help them through those years and that’s an inspiration to me.
To know that I was able to help them in some small way to achieve their goal and yet I feel very fulfilled in what I’ve been able to do with what I have had these years.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
A: I do. It’s, “Trust in the Lord with all your strength and lean not on your own understanding but in always acknowledge him and he will direct your path.”
I say that verse every day and I feel His presence because I know He is directing me.
It helps me to try and continue to achieve what I’ve set out for myself as a goal for the day and do the best I can each day at work.
Q: What are you
A: I have just read the most amazing book. It’s called “The Circle Maker” and it’s by Mark Batterson.
A friend shared it with me and I couldn’t put it down. It was so great. And then I found when I was in Atlanta last week a prayer journal for 40 days of prayer that I’m getting into now and it is just an awesome book.
It has inspired me so much; I just really have enjoyed that. And I love to read. I read the Bible every day.
Q: Being raised in such a large family, what things have you learned at home that have helped you in business?
A: First of all, I was third-oldest in the family so looking after the seven under me was part of my responsibilities and taking care of their needs, because my mother was so busy doing everything, she allowed us to help.
So I learned to cook at a very young age; I learned how to take care of the children very early.
Mother’s principle was — we didn’t have a lot of money, but she told us everyday — a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.
That has stuck with me all of these years.
Because I know if my name is still good out in the community and I have done what I can for other people and I don’t mar that name, then I’m going to have a successful life.
Mother taught us, because father was away a lot making a living for those 10 children, love and compassion and laughter.
My mother laughed ... she was such a fun lady and how she managed to raise 10 children is beyond my comprehension.
But she was a great role model for me and an inspiration. She would pray for us when we were having tests so that we would know that she was really concerned with what we were doing and that’s a source of strength as I look back on growing up.
Q: What’s the key to happiness?
A: I think you have to be happy with yourself, and I am happy with myself.
I never look back and reflect on how poor we were when we were growing up but am so thankful for what today brings me.
Good health, a good family, a good husband, and a great place to work, even though I’m older in years. Having been banking for 60 years, I feel as though this is an opportunity for me to continue to do a good job and yet, maybe mentor some of the younger bankers that are coming into my profession.
That’s what I really feel like and it makes me happy. I get up anxious to come to work every day.