The Commercial Appeal

Ron Terry, former First Tennessee CEO and Memphis civic leader, dies

- Omer Yusuf

A prominent Memphis business leader for decades, Ron Terry was CEO of then-first Tennessee during the period where it grew from solely being in Memphis to a statewide bank.

Terry, also known for his civic efforts and love for the arts, died Monday at Trezevant Manor. He was 92.

Former First Tennessee CEO Ralph Horn worked with Terry at the bank for more than 30 years.

“I feel for his family and all of his friends,” Horn said. “He was a very interestin­g, knowledgea­ble go-getter as a businesspe­rson. Leading all kinds of civic organizati­ons and getting a lot of stuff done that would not have happened without him getting something on his mind or something he wanted to get done and do it.”

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Terry began working at First Tennessee — now known as First Horizon — as a management trainee in 1957. He would work there for 38 years. In 1973, Terry was named CEO and chairman of First Tennessee. He retired in 1995.

During his tenure as CEO, First Tennessee grew to become the state’s largest bank holding company. Horn succeeded Terry and served as CEO from 1995 to 2003. He credited Terry for his impact on First Tennessee’s growth during his tenure and for his vision to have a state law changed that allowed the bank to branch out throughout the entire state.

Though the most important piece of advice Horn shared with Terry did not involve First Tennessee or banking matters.

“He said it doesn’t matter who you’re meeting with, how important they are to the bank or the business,” Horn said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a meeting with a bunch of political leaders, if you see your phone ring and it’s from your home number, your family is more important and to us than anybody you could meet.”

He also served as president for the Federal Advisory Board to the Federal Reserve System and the Reserve City Bankers’ Associatio­n. In 1982, along with a handful of other bankers, Terry went to the White House to discuss the national banking industry with President Ronald Reagan.

In 1981, while chairman of the Memphis Jobs Conference, Terry joined other bankers in providing bank financing to resurrect The Peabody hotel credited with helping turning around Downtown Memphis and helped founded the Shelby Farms Park Conservanc­y.

Terry also served on various corporate boards including Holiday Inn, Bellsouth and Autozone. He served on the board of directors of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the University of Tennessee, Rhodes College, Arts Appreciati­on Inc. and The Boys Club of Memphis.

Terry also led a major art project in

Downtown Memphis. He led the installati­on of the First Tennessee Heritage Collection, in the lobby of the bank’s headquarte­rs — a 110-foot-long work of art by artist Ted Faiers tells a visual story of the state’s history.

First Tennessee later honored Terry’s lifelong contributi­ons by naming its building on Poplar Avenue in Memphis the Ron Terry Center.

Terry is survived by his wife of 35 years, Wynoka, their three daughters, six grandchild­ren and one great-grandchild.

Visitation for Terry is noon Friday at Memorial Park Cemetery, 5668 Poplar Ave., with funeral services to follow at 1 p.m. Friday.

Omer Yusuf covers the Ford project in Haywood County, residentia­l real estate, tourism and banking for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached via email Omer.yusuf@commercial­ or followed on Twitter @Omerayusuf.

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