Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Walking the Walk: Austin Roberts of Virginia Chairs ABA's Community Bankers Council as It Takes on the Regulatory Burden, Credit Unions, and More. Get to Know a Staunch Advocate for Community Banks

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Walking the Walk: Austin Roberts of Virginia Chairs ABA's Community Bankers Council as It Takes on the Regulatory Burden, Credit Unions, and More. Get to Know a Staunch Advocate for Community Banks

Article excerpt

The Northern Neck of Virginia is one of those areas that tends to keep its best face to itself.

You can drive through parts of it without anything standing out. You'll see a few classical main-street type towns, expanses of wooded country, a bit of farmland, and some light industry. The only hints of the anything different are the tantalizing glimpses of water you get as you cross a bridge here and there over the Chesapeake Bay inlets that perforate the peninsula.

But if all you do is drive through this bit of rural Virginia, you'll miss the chance to get to know a fascinating place. Leave the road; beg or borrow a boat and explore the Neck from the outside in.

You will see a completely different place. It is country that historically drew much of its living from the water--crabbing, oystering, and menhaden fishing--as well as from the land. Much of the living that goes on in the Northern Neck takes place out back of the many homes that adjoin the creeks, bays, estuaries, and Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. There are watercraft of all descriptions--from tiny skiffs to big sports fishing craft.

Today, some locals joke, the major crop is retirement--in the form of homes and activities. The region's fisheries and farms have mostly had their day, but one thing America has a growing amount of is gray hair. Increasingly, the Neck reflects a "barbell" economy: lower-income workers from Mexico and elsewhere who perform the manual labor, and upper-income managers, professionals, and owners, as well as wealthy retirees who have come from elsewhere to jump on relatively decent property prices.

So, to know the Neck, you must look beyond the obvious.

To get to know Austin L. Roberts, III, the chairman of the ABA Community Bankers Council, you must also spend some time. Only a brief meeting is required to know he is an affable fellow. But you'd miss getting to know a banker with a deep passion for his industry, his business, and his community.

Roberts, 58, is president and CEO of $305 million-assets Bay Banks of Virginia, Inc., which owns 75-year-old Bank of Lancaster, a full-service community bank serving much of the Neck, and Bay Trust, its trust affiliate.

Roberts' road to the Neck

The Neck is an evolving place. While the local flavor still dominates, new influences have gradually been stirred in. Where traditional farms once flourished, there are homes--and wineries, even a "winery condo." One new restaurant has brought New York "SoHo"-style to the Neck, and is packed with old locals as well as new locals every night. The friendly reception is not surprising. Roberts says that no one new--retiree or restaurateur--remains a stranger for long here. He and his wife, Barbara, aren't natives, but they have become as much of the Neck as Bay Banks has always been.

Austin's father, an attorney and a former Marine officer, made his living as chief of a Washington, D.C.-based trade association serving independent gas producers, and Austin was born in the nation's capital. The senior Austin Roberts had been in law school, but enlisted when World War II broke out and became part of the forces protecting the Panama Canal. In time he was rotated into the White House protective detail.

Barbara's father was a career Army officer who finished as a "full bird" colonel. As a captain in the Fourth Infantry Division, he landed at Normandy on D-Day and counted Teddy Roosevelt Jr. among the occupants of his Higgins landing craft. Barbara Powell was born in Greece while her father was on overseas diplomatic duty.

The couple met at college when Roberts was pursuing graduate work. On completing his undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary, Roberts had found a dream job with Union Trust Co., of Washington, D.C. (later First American Bank). At the time, Union Trust was an up and coming bank in the D.C. area and it was actively recruiting on campuses. …

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