Bank of Tennessee CEO/Chairman Fair to retire

Published 2:46 pm Friday, August 6, 2021

By Lynn J. Richardson

After a 43-year career that includes banking, coaching, teaching, holding public office, and directing a social services agency, Elizabethton’s Dale Fair is announcing his plans to retire.

Fair will officially retire September 3, stepping down as the Bank of Tennessee’s CEO, but will remain as Chairman of the Board of Bank of Tennessee.

“I feel like I’ve had a good career, so I asked myself, ‘When’s the best time to jump off the bus?’ Fair said. “In an organization like Bank of Tennessee and Carter County Bank, there’s always something going on. It’s moving. It doesn’t stop. The team is strong, so I decided that after a half a year, before we begin planning for 2022, the first of September will be the right time.”

One could say Fair’s long career actually started long before he accepted his first “real job.” He would also tell you that his career was the result of a chain of “out of the blue” opportunities.

As a boy, he worked as a newspaper carrier for the Elizabethton Star and washed vehicles for the Elizabethton Electric System, where his father worked for 44 years.

At Elizabethton High School, Fair was a Cyclone football standout and his talents both in the classroom and on the field earned him a four-year football scholarship, so after graduation in 1973, he headed to the University of Tennessee.

Fair was successful at UT, but going into his junior year, he tore his knee up during a scrimmage. Even though he’d had knee issues before, this time it was different. Torn ligaments requiring surgery ended his football playing career.

Fair stayed on at UT, working as a graduate assistant with Tennessee football and earning his B.S. and M.S. degrees in education.

And even though he had an opportunity to stay in college coaching and recruiting after graduation, he declined. “I just wasn’t the traveling type,” he said.

Instead, he opted to take a coaching and teaching position in Middle Tennessee at White County High School for three years, an opportunity Fair says taught him a lot.

“Then, just out of the blue, Joe LaPorte (Jr.) of Citizens Bank called me about a job,” Fair recalled. “I told him, ‘I know zero about banking.’ He told me, ‘I’ll teach you what you need to know.’”

The job was a perfect fit for Fair.

“It’s easier to stay in one place in banking,” Fair said. “I’m an Elizabethton boy. I grew up here, and it’s a great place to raise a family and go to church. It’s a great place to live. Both Cindy’s and my parents were here, and we wanted our children to know their grandparents and their cousins.”

Fair has been married to his wife, Cindy, for 41 years and they have three children and seven grandchildren.

He accepted the job at Citizens Bank in 1981. That was also the year he got a call from John Holsclaw, Sr. inviting him to help call an Elizabethton football game on WBEJ. He was reluctant at first, but soon found himself a regular “voice of the Cyclones,” along with Holsclaw, for the next 35 years.

Fair remained with Citizens Bank until 2002 — the year longtime county executive Truman Clark announced his retirement — and Fair’s phone began to ring with calls encouraging him to run for the office.

“I thought I could make a difference,” Fair said. “I worked hard at it and I was chairman of the commission for the four years I was there.”

During his term, Fair championed at least two laws were passed by the commission that have had a long-lasting effect — a countywide zoning law which protects people’s lifelong investments in their property and a “ridge law” which protects the natural scenery from buildings built above the tree line.

“It was a great experience and it taught me a lot about people,” Fair said. “But what I didn’t like in politics is people misleading people on purpose.”

So, after one term, Fair decided not to seek re-election. Instead, in 2006, he accepted the position of Executive Director of First Tennessee Human Resources Agency, a public non-profit which provides assistance and social services for individuals in eight counties in Northeast Tennessee.

“Then,” Fair said, “in 2012, Mr. (Bill) Greene called me, and it’s hard to tell him ‘no.’”

Fair accepted Greene’s offer and returned to the banking industry as President of Carter County Bank, a division of Bank of Tennessee. In 2013 he was promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer of Bank of Tennessee and its divisions, Carter County Bank and Mountain Community Bank.

In 2019, Fair was named President and CEO of Bank of Tennessee and its divisions and in 2021, he became Chairman of the Board of Bank of Tennessee.

Greene, who is the Chairman, President and CEO of BancTenn Corp, the company that owns Bank of Tennessee and Carter County Bank, says he is glad he made that call back in 2012.

“When Dale was in competition across the street (at Citizens Bank), I quickly realized he was one of the best bankers I had ever met,” Greene said. “He had incredible leadership skills.”

“The beautiful part of Dale is that he has incredible integrity,” he added. “He’s competitive and he’s mastered a quality of life that’s very balanced with his work, his church and his family. You just feel better after you’ve spent time with him.

“He’s running a $2 billion organization, stretching from Nashville to North Carolina, an organization which is considered by all regulatory authorities as one of the safest banks in the country,” Greene said. “Not many people can do that. Dale can.

“I’ll tell you this: If we were in a foxhole together, I wouldn’t have any trouble sleeping.”

The mix of careers in coaching, teaching, banking, public and social service taught Fair a lot, he says, and he has had a very busy life. He admits he isn’t quite sure what to expect when he retires.

“Someone told me retirement is like six Saturdays and a Sunday,” Fair said. “I’m just not sure what that will feel like. Over the past 43 years, I’ve never taken a break. I went from Friday on one job to Monday on the next job, so this will be very new to me.”

As he looks ahead to retirement, he also thinks of those who are just starting their careers and his advice is very simple:

“Go where you can be happy, and where you can see fulfillment. It’s not an hourly wage or a salary; it’s a profession. It’s something that you want to do, that you can feel satisfied that you are doing something good.”

“And,” he added, “when opportunity comes, be ready.”