A 67-Year Career


‘Ms. Louise’ keeps customers content
and reassured at the drive-through

By Ellen Ryan

When customers come through Ms. Louise’s drive-through teller window, she usually knows them by name. Often, she knows their children or parents. Sometimes she knows their grandchildren or grandparents.

Louise McCraw Cocke has been working at what is now Tennessee’s $441 million-asset The Bank of Fayette County for 67 years. When she started as a bookkeeper at her family’s community bank in March 1948—at $75 a month—farmers came by in spring for loans to support planting and living expenses for the next several months.

Parking Privileges—The Bank of Fayette County reserves a special parking place for longtime community banker Louise McCraw Cocke, more simply known as Ms. Louise.
Parking Privileges—The Bank of Fayette County reserves a special parking place for longtime community banker Louise McCraw Cocke, more simply known as Ms. Louise.

How did a community bank judge loan prospects before computers? “It was more consideration of experience and their character,” says the woman everyone fondly calls Ms. Louise. “If the bank didn’t know them, we had to go by references.”

In a field increasingly defined by high tech, Ms. Louise has always been high touch. “People like to have contact with their banker,” she says. “I think you understand things better when there’s more human contact, and I hear customers say so.”

They have contact with Ms. Louise almost every day at the drive-through. She sits on a plain wooden stool, having turned away a comfier seat. No sunglasses, no matter what the angle of the sun.

At age 87, she still works five days a week, including Saturdays. When The Bank of Fayette County in April acquired her former employer, Trust Company Bank, “we told her she was welcome to leave after 2 o’clock when the girls balance, but she stays until 4:30,” says Pattie Lessel, administrator of the bank’s branch in Mason, Tenn.

Why does she stay longer? “I enjoy seeing the people,” says Ms. Louise.
The people person moved out among the people when she was named assistant cashier in 1951. When she married and had four children, her close-knit family, which owned the Bank of Mason, helped her stay through an era when pencils and pads were used to count cash and the bank’s vault was used daily.

“We were raised with the respect of her job,” says Ms. Louise’s daughter, Lisa Tapp. “If we called her at work, it had better be important. At that time, the bank’s schedule was six days a week, and everybody worked all six. The entire staff, though small, worked together—and worked to make needed time off possible.”

Ms. Louise was appointed a director in 1985 and vice president in 2005. Tapp joined the same year; she’s still at the Mason branch as a teller. That’s community banking carried to a new generation.

But the older generation’s not done. Ms. Louise may not use an ATM, but she knows how to connect with customers. Stickers, candy and dog treats at the window help. She also can make people smile with stories, like the one about the boat on a trailer that tried to negotiate the drive-through and showed why boats do better on water.

H. McCall Wilson Jr., the bank’s president and CEO, attributes the success of so many community banks to people like Ms. Louise and her trusted reputation. People make a point of coming by to see her, to do business with her.

“If I’m not at my spot, they’ll ask where I am,” says Ms. Louise. “Some come through here every day.”

Ellen Ryan is a writer in Maryland.