Thomas M. Bolton Jr., former president and chief executive officer of Merchants National Bank of Sacramento, died Wednesday at his Carmichael home, bank President Stephen A. Meyers said. He was 91.
Like the family-owned institution that he led, Mr. Bolton was a venerable figure in the banking industry. He spent his entire financial career of almost 60 years at Merchants, Sacramento's oldest community bank, which opened in 1921 at 1015 Seventh St.
"He was such a gentle soul and so easy to work with," said Meyers, who was named president in 2000. "The fact that we have so many employees who have stayed their whole career here speaks volumes about him."
Mr. Bolton left a teaching position at Stanford University to join the bank in 1951 at the request of his father-in-law, Harold Robinson, president and co-founder. He took over as president in 1978 and adhered to the banking philosophy of steady, modest growth and personal customer service established by Robinson and co-founder Joseph H. Stevens.
Mr. Bolton passed the reins in 1996 to his son, Thomas R. Bolton. When the younger man died unexpectedly of meningitis three years later, Thomas M. Bolton Jr. left semiretirement and stepped back in as president.
"It was a tremendous sign of stability," Meyers said. "It was a sign of assurance to customers and employees, and moving forward."
Mr. Bolton was born in 1920 in Oildale, near Bakersfield. An only child, he moved with his parents and graduated from high school in Vancouver, British Columbia, where his father was a Standard Oil executive.
He graduated from College of the Pacific in 1942 and served as a Navy gunnery officer aboard a destroyer during World War II. Discharged as a lieutenant commander, he taught naval science and earned a master's degree in business administration in 1951 at Stanford University.
He was married for 58 years to the former Roberta Robinson. They traveled to many countries and spent time at a second home in Sea Ranch. They had one child, Thomas R. and were together until her death in 2007.
Mr. Bolton held leadership positions in community and charitable groups, including Sutter Community Hospitals, Sacramento Rotary Club, the Masonic Order and the Marguerite Home. He belonged to the Sutter Club and Del Paso Country Club.
He stepped down from day-to-day management of Merchants as president in 2000 but remained chairman and chief executive officer.
After turning over the top titles to Meyers in 2008, he continued to visit the bank a few times a week. Sitting at the desk in the front lobby that he occupied for almost six decades, he greeted customers by name.
"It was a face that many customers were well accustomed to," Meyers said. "He was the face of Merchants bank."