F. Gorham Brigham Jr., 101, mainstay among local banking leaders
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Retiring wasn't on F. Gorham Brigham Jr.'s mind in 1983 when the folks at Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Co. told him one day that he had reached the age for his career to end.
He was 68 and for years had arrived at work before the morning light illuminated his office windows. His weeks routinely edged past 70 hours, yet he made time to volunteer extensively, including as a cofounder and board leader of the Carroll School in Lincoln, which serves children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities.
"Being unwanted is no fun. You should decide to move on when you, not the employer, are ready," he told other older workers a few years later in a seminar he created called "What Happens When Your Company Retires You Before You're Ready."
After 21 years at Boston Safe Deposit, Mr. Brigham wasn't ready, so he switched to Boston Five Cents Savings Bank and stayed on when it was acquired by Citizens Bank. He was a senior vice president when he called it quits in 2005.
"I retired when I turned 90," he said in an interview for the centennial celebration of the Rivers School in Weston, which he had attended as a boy. "I drove myself to work every day, but I would leave at 4:30 in the morning to avoid rush hour traffic."
Mr. Brigham, who had been the oldest living graduate of Harvard Business School, died Sept. 1 in Clark House at Fox Hill Village in Westwood, where he lived the past year and a half. He was 101 and had previously lived in West Newton since 1948.
"Never volunteer to retire unless you really want to," he told those who attended his talks about staying vital past the traditional retirement age. After turning 65, he noted in the 45th anniversary report of his Harvard College class that he planned "to continue working on a year-to-year basis, health permitting." Those years added up to an additional quarter century.
Bob Mahoney, who is president of Belmont Savings Bank and held that title with Citizens when it purchased Boston Five Cents, recalled speaking with Mr. Brigham when the two banks became one. "I said, 'What do you do?' He said, 'I connect people. I make connections,' " Mahoney said.
Hosting his own private luncheons, "Gorham would get two or three people he knew from Boston and two or three of our loan officers together and they would connect," said Mahoney, who added: "I always said we paid too much for the Boston Five, but we didn't pay enough for F. Gorham Brigham. He was the classic Boston gentleman."
In 1956, before turning to banking, Mr. Brigham was chief financial officer for an engineering company when he founded the Treasurers' Club of Boston to bring together senior financial executives. In 1963, he joined what is now Financial Executives International, and was a leader of that organization before becoming an inaugural hall of fame inductee in 2006.
Mr. Brigham "was the type of man who never looked for anything in return. He always cared about your career," said Joseph DiLorenzo, former Celtics chief financial officer and president of MD Group.
"Gorham was right out of central casting, the picture of the Boston gentleman — an executive who was tall, handsome, articulate, and very smart," said Al Faber, an independent consultant who runs Alan Faber Growth Strategies. "His key quality right to the end was paying it forward, asking people: 'What can I do for you today?' He had no agenda. It was always the agenda of the next person."
The older of two siblings, Francis Gorham Brigham Jr. grew up in Chestnut Hill, where his father, Francis Gorham Sr., was a physician, and his mother, the former Helen Greeley McKissock, volunteered extensively.
He graduated from Milton Academy in 1933, from Harvard College four years later, and received a master's from Harvard Business School in 1939.
"His father wanted him to be a doctor but he really couldn't stand the sight of blood," said his daughter, Scottie Brigham Faerber of Amherst. "The next alternative seemed to be business, to which he was ideally suited. He loved the world of business."
After Harvard Business School, Mr. Brigham was working for an accounting firm when he was drafted by the Army. "I came home from playing golf and my mother was crying. I said, 'What's the trouble?' She said, 'You've been ordered to active duty, effective tomorrow,' " he recalled in an interview for a video prepared for his 100th birthday.
Resigning from work the next day, he reported for duty and was assigned to the office of General George C. Marshall's chief of staff in Washington, D.C. "The five years in the service with General Marshall was the experience of a lifetime and laid the base for a career as a professional manager," Mr. Brigham wrote in 1962 for his 25th Harvard class report. In 1945, Marshall himself presented a Legion of Merit award to Mr. Brigham, who remained in the Army Reserve after the war, retiring as a colonel in 1967.
At a church supper in Washington, he met Hester Amy Bull, who is known as Amy, and they married on Sept. 6, 1941.
"He was a very old school loving gentleman, very courtly and courteous, and extremely devoted to my mother and his children," his daughter said. "As my mother said when he died, 'I want him back,' and I guess that's how we all feel about him."
When the family returned to Boston, Mr. Brigham worked for a textile manufacturer and an engineering company before beginning his 43-year banking career at Boston Safe Deposit in 1962.
In 2009, the Boston Business Journal gave Mr. Brigham its first CFO of the year award for lifetime achievement, and subsequently named the award after him. He was extensively active in alumni activities and was honored by the Harvard Alumni Association in 2012. Mr. Brigham also served on the boards of several hospitals.
Slowing little in retirement, he sent a letter in January to Drew Faust, Harvard's president, encouraging the university's faculty, students, and alumni to become more aware of "the key aspects of climate change."
"Thinking about him now, I don't know how he balanced his life," his daughter said. "He worked all the time. He did a huge amount of volunteer work. He played tennis all the time. He and my mother had a full social life. And his family was very important to him."
Mr. Brigham's son Dana died of cancer in 1998, and "losing him has been the great tragedy of my father's life," his daughter said.
The family plans a private service for Mr. Brigham, who in addition to his wife and daughter leaves two sons, Francis Gorham III of West Newton and William of Dedham; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
In an interview published in February by The Harbus, Harvard Business School's news organization, Mr. Brigham made achieving longevity sound comparatively simple.
"My secret has been to be careful, to live a clean life, avoiding too much alcohol and too much partying. I spent my career engaging in good, solid, day-to-day work," he said. "Actually, there are no real secrets."