Atkins retires after 59 years of Clarksville banking
By Jimmy Settle, Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle
With 59 years of local banking under his belt, Billy Atkins is indisputably a patriarch of Clarksville’s modern-era “community banking” movement.
He has retired as the legendary face of Clarksville-based Legends Bank.
But the community-focused business legacy that Atkins built goes on.
A $9 million bank from the outset, Legends now has assets of about a half-billion dollars.
Though passing off the bank’s chairmanship to former Montgomery County (Mayor) Executive and bank board member Doug Weiland, Atkins will remain on the board to help ensure that the hometown feel of the financial institution — that Clarksville-centric feel that he first envisioned — will remain at the core of the bank’s daily interactions with people.
Legends Bank’s staff, board and associates surprised Atkins with a retirement party this week at The Belle Hollow.
Walking into the room to, at first, unknowingly greet many of his friends, family and associates, it was clear by Atkins’ initial reaction that the party’s organizers were able to achieve the element of surprise.
“Yes, I was surprised,” Atkins said, “and as I look around this room, I’ve spent the past 20 years sitting in meetings with these people, and now I get to celebrate with them.
“I see so many friends and people who supported what we were successful in trying to do with a true community bank.
“I’ll still be around, but I’m going to try to also do some farming and enjoy some time fishing,” Atkins said.
Atkins’ banking career began early while he was attending high school. He was hired at age 17 with the former Northern Bank of Tennessee.
“I remember the first day I went to work. I started as a teller at the New Providence branch along with Dotson Guinn,” Atkins told The Leaf-Chronicle.
Atkins and Guinn would both ascend to highly successful professional careers, and they still take time a couple days each week to get together for breakfast, and reflect.
Atkins rose quickly in the bank from teller to branch manager, to lender, and found his niche in commercial lending.
He would spend 28 years with Northern Bank, advancing to senior vice president and becoming a member of the board of directors before the bank sold to First American National Bank in 1988.
During his time at First American, Atkins led the Clarksville market as senior vice president and senior credit officer until being named city president in 1993.
It was a time of frequent bank mergers in the financial industry, and Atkins was increasingly getting the itch to break out of the trend.
The term, “community banking,” became his passion, if not his obsession.
Atkins resigned from First American in March 1998 and began laying the foundation for Legends Bank.
It happened just as he imagined it could. Legends was chartered and opened for business in November 1998 on the corner of College and North First Street in downtown Clarksville.
The bank now has eight offices in three middle Tennessee counties – Montgomery, Davidson and Williamson.
Over Legends’ first 20 years, Atkins has served as organizer, president, chief executive officer, and director. In 2012, he was named chairman of the board and CEO.
To achieve a true community banking environment, Atkins knew he’d have to set the tone by becoming immersed in the life and development of Clarksville-Montgomery County.
It was a labor of love. For example, he has been a guiding force in the dramatic growth of Austin Peay State University, and in 2017, then-Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Atkins to serve on the university’s inaugural Board of Trustees.
Atkins doesn’t miss many APSU home football or basketball games and you might find him catching practices on the field or in the Dunn Center in his spare time.
Then, there was his work in local economic and industrial development that helped bring Clarksville to the threshold of a series of nine-digit corporate investments ranging from Hankook Tire, to Google and LG.
In 1994, Atkins served as president of the Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce, and he has served three, six-year terms on the Industrial Development Board, having chaired the IDB four times within that period.
Among other community work, Atkins is also past president of St. Bethlehem Civitan Club, a life member of the Masonic Lodge, past chairman of Montgomery County Heart Association, past division chair and treasurer for the local United Way, and trustee of the Consumer Lending School for the Tennessee Bankers Association. He is a graduate of Leadership Clarksville’s class of 1993..
Atkins and his wife, Sue, raised two daughters, Luann and Julie, and one granddaughter, Britney. He enjoys spending time with his family and two dogs, Boo Boo and Lucy.