The Last Word

A Tribute to Roy Simmons

A. Scott Anderson Jul 1, 2016
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” This aptly describes Zions Bank’s former longtime CEO Roy Simmons.

Roy William Simmons was born in Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 24, 1916, and adopted by Henry Clay Simmons, a Southern Pacific Railroad blacksmith’s helper, and Ida May Mudd Simmons. Roy’s mother Ida died when he was 8 years old. By that time, his father, in his late 70s, had become too ill to care for him, so he went to live with a family friend, Blanche Davis Reese. They soon moved to Salt Lake City.

Roy Simmons developed industrious habits at a young age. He had many small jobs to help his family, including delivering flowers, working at a gas station and selling leftover produce from a farmers market door-to-door from his hand-pulled wagon.

His banking career began in 1940 when he began working for his father-in-law, Laurence Ellison, at First National Bank of Layton. Then in 1948, Simmons met J. Bracken Lee, a candidate for governor of Utah. When Lee was elected, he asked Simmons to reorganize the liquor commission. Apparently, there had been a scandal in the previous administration, which centered on missing inventory. Simmons took the job.

Just 90 days later, Gov. Lee appointed Simmons as Utah’s commissioner of financial institutions, making him the youngest state banking commissioner in the United States.

Simmons left his state post three years later to organize the Bank of Utah in Ogden. A year later, he left the Bank of Utah to become president of the Lockhart Company, a consumer finance firm in Salt Lake City.

In 1960 Simmons and several business associates purchased controlling interest in Zions First National Bank from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Three years later, Zions and Lockhart merged to form Zions Bancorporation, and Simmons was soon elected chairman of the board and CEO. Over the next 42 years, Simmons led Zions First National Bank and Zions Bancorporation.

During his 42-year tenure, the bank grew from an institution with approximately $150 million in assets, 110 employees and three branch offices in downtown Salt Lake City, to a banking company today that is the 33rd largest banking organization in the United States, with nearly 11,000 employees and total assets of approximately $60 billion, operating under local management teams and unique brands in 11 Western and Southwestern states.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Simmons, and the lesson we can all learn from his life, is not the tremendous success he achieved from very humble beginnings, but what he did with that success. Simmons helped countless organizations, serving as a director or a member of more than 30 nonprofit and civic groups. He also found joy working with his wife, Tibby, on the restoration of historic buildings and providing college scholarships to single mothers.

Simmons received many awards and recognitions. However, he did not serve to bring attention to himself or to receive accolades and honors. He gave quietly, without praise, and with real intent to help those in need. Simmons recognized that many people in his life lifted him up in times of need. Consequently, he always did what he could to lift others.

Introducing Simmons at a speech in honor of the 100-year anniversary of Zions Bank, LDS Church President Harold B. Lee remarked, “To know Roy Simmons and the story of his humble background and his early life, and to know that by his own ingenuity and his own thrift and industry he has become one of the most respected citizens of this community, is to know the heart of this man. Bankers are supposed by some to be cold, unfeeling people. But we who know him most intimately see him as a man who has a heart, who puts loyalty ahead of personal preference.”

Truly, Zions Bank is the lengthened shadow of Roy Simmons and we pay tribute to him in the year of his 100th birthday.

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