F. F. Becker

Transcribed August 27, 1991 Henry J. Ledet

Coke: Today is August the 21, 1991. I'm at the home of Mr. F. F. Becker on South Church Street in Brookhaven and we're going to have a little chat. How are you this morning, Mr. Becker?

Becker: Fine, fine. You want me to tell you something about the banking business in Brookhaven?

Coke: Yes, I certainly do. But first, I'd like to know, if you don't mind, what does F.F. stand for?

Becker: Ferdinand Francis. Ferdinand Francis the second. I was named after my grandfather, not my father. My father is F. V. Becker, my grandfather is F. F. Becker. I have a son Dr. F. F. Becker and he has a son F. F. Becker so we have F. F. Becker the third. My son is Dr. F. F. Becker Jr., he lives in Florida.

Coke: What was your mother's maiden name?

Becker: My mother was Betty Drane from Clarksville Tennessee. She came to Brookhaven to work for the freight office for the Illinois Central Railroad.

Coke: How do you spell her last name?

Becker: D-r-a-n-e, Drane.

Coke: What is your wife's maiden name?

Becker: Adeline Moreton. Mary Adiline Moreton. M-o-r-e-t-o-n.

Coke: One last question regarding names: I know that you are affectionately known to a lot of people as "Boozie." How did you get that name?

Becker: I don't know. My mother never knew. She thought that possibly my sister who was older than me was trying to call me "brother," got it confused and it gradually evolved into "Boozie" and it stayed that way until this day.

Coke: Where did you attend school?

Becker: I went to the Brookhaven Catholic school through eighth grade and to Brookhaven High School, graduated from there and went to Mississippi State, graduated from Mississippi State in 1932, which makes me almost 60 years out of Mississippi State.

Coke: You were born in what year?

Becker: I was born in 1910. My wife was born in 1911. We are both 80 years old at the present time. We we have both lived our entire lives in Brookhaven.

Coke: After you got out of school, Mr. Becker, what did you do?

Becker: I did anything I could find to do. I graduated from State in 1932, that was just about the middle of the depression, after the crash and there were absolutely no jobs available for anybody. In the class I graduated it, there were probably two students who had jobs when they graduated. I ran a filling station, worked in a hardware store for a short time, then went in the bank to work and stayed there for fifty years before I retired.

Coke: When you went into the bank to work, what was your first job there?

Becker: My first job was right at the bottom, starting at the bottom.

Coke: And what is the bottom?

Becker: General clerk. I was in the Note Department, working in the Note Department was where I started out. I held every position in the bank except President. I went from Assistant Cashier to Chairman of the Board, when I got out of the bank, I was Chairman of the Board.

Coke: Mr. Becker, what was the difference between banking when you went into the banking business as a career and banking today?

Becker: It was as different as daylight and dark. [While] I was in the banking business came the age of computers and what not, it's just dramatically changed from the time I was in the bank.

Coke: Has there been a change in attitude, when I say this I mean do bankers use a different approach when approaching customers, are their attitudes different now than they used to be?

Becker: Yes, I believe so. It used to be more one on one, a personal basis when I was in the bank. Now it's more impersonal and not that way--its just business, business is business.

Coke: There's a lot of stories about the banking business, particularly these days with the S & L stuff going on, and I don't want to get into that right now, but can you describe more in detail what you actually did and maybe you know some interesting stories about some people you came into contact with or something like that?

Becker: When I started out some of the business in the bank was done with pen and ink. We did have some posting machines and adding machines but about half of it was done by pen and ink. We went from there to more and more machines and more and more we went to computers when I got out of the bank and now everything is computerized from top to bottom. They long ago passed me.

Coke: How did they go about--for instance, if a man came into the bank and wanted to make a loan, what procedure did you go through to make him a loan?

Becker: It was more of a personal matter. The guy came in the bank and there was usually somebody in there he knew and he did his business with. He came in and sat down, stated his case and they worked it out on a one on one basis. Now you have to go into all kinds of appraisals and financial statements and what not. At that time, whoever was representing the bank could make a decision right there at his desk whether to make the loan or not make the loan. Now you have to go through so many procedures to complete a loan.

Coke: You often hear in reference to the old times, that a man's word was his bond. In other words, all he had to do was come in and ask for the loan and get it without giving any credit reference or anything of that sort. Is that a fact?

Becker: That's right. We didn't have any except our own, what we might call a credit file, somebody's record with us was all we had to refer to, what we knew about that person.

Coke: What was the largest loan that you can remember. You don't have to call the name, but maybe you can give an amount, that you can remember was ever made in the banking business while you were in it?

Becker: Being in a small town, our loans didn't go too large. I can't remember the largest one we ever made there, I'd have to look at the records. For instance, back when we started loaning on automobiles, my goodness, we wouldn't go over three years on a loan on an automobile. If the payments were a hundred dollars a month we thought that was a terrifically high payment. Now that's a nominal, small payment with inflation and all.

Coke: Did you sometimes require collateral?

Becker: Yes, when I came in the bank we were predominately a cotton area. It's gone by the board now. We made loans in the spring to make a crop and paid back what they could in the fall and carried forward to the next year if they had a bad crop. We usually took chattel: the cattle or horses or mules or whatever or real estate on the loans, including the cotton crops. But we depended mostly on a man's integrity at that time. I don't know of a loan that we made that we ever collected on the sale of chattel of a loan.

Coke: ...Did you all know pretty well all of the people of integrity in the County of Lincoln and the City of Brookhaven, that you could make these loans just on their word?

Becker: Yes. That's the way we had it back then. You knew who you could make loans to, you knew the people so well. We knew everybody in the county and the town between the people in the management of the bank we knew everybody in town and we could just go on our general knowledge of people to pick out how the loans were made. Now, it's a lot more involved than that.

Coke: When you started in this bank, what was the name of it?

Becker: To give you a little background of where the bank came from, it was Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company when I came in. It was originally incorporated in 1900 as the Bank of Brookhaven. They bought out the Sherman and Davis Private Bankers who had been in business on the same corner where the bank was. The charter was the Bank of Brookhaven and in 1907 they changed the charter to Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company and it operated as such from then on and on the same corner where the old bank was. The bank was re-built entirely in 1928 and it was re-done and air conditioned in 1950, and built entirely new building and bank in about '75, I can't remember the exact year we built the new bank building.

Coke: And the name of the new bank now?

Becker: We sold out to Trustmark National Bank in Jackson on October first, 1985. They operate the bank at the present time.

Coke: Do you still have some interest in the bank today?

Becker: No. I have no interest at all. We sold the bank out, a cash transaction. All the stockholders got cash for their stock, that wound up Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company as such.

Coke: Did you ever have to repossess anything such as a man's house or his automobile or his car? What was it like when you had to foreclose on somebody?

Becker: Back when the crash came in '29 and after the crash everything was in chaos, nobody had any money, the bank had...lots of loans that could not be repaid. People with integrity, who were just A-1 had no way to pay their loans and the bank had to foreclose on lots of property. We ended up with about sixty nine parcels of property and to keep the bank going, the Brady and Moreton interest in the bank formed a Brookhaven Investment Company and put their own money into the investment company, took over those assets of the bank to infuse cash into the bank and operated as the Brookhaven Investment Company not knowing whether they would ever get a dime back of their money, but to keep the bank going. Over the years as things came back, they gradually liquidated all the property and got back all the money they had put into it. But that was the integrity of the two families who were going to keep that bank going even if they had to go down with it. Those kind of things don't happen today.

Coke: I hear people make the statement, "Business is business" and that is true. But sometimes we have personal feelings about certain business transactions we have to make and if you had to make these foreclosures like this did you.... How did you feel personally about it?

Becker: [I felt] bad about it, having to foreclose on people. At that time, people couldn't even pay their taxes on their property, couldn't keep it up or make the payments. Couldn't make the payments or pay the taxes. A lot of property sold for taxes, you just have to have been there and gone through it to have known how it was, how low business can get.

Coke: What year did you retire from the bank, Mr. Becker?

Becker: I retired in December 1975. I'd been an active officer of the bank for 40 years, I stayed on as Chairman of the Board of the bank for ten more years. Sometime after the sale of the bank, I stayed on for a few years more as Chairman of the Board, just to keep from making such a drastic change at one time. About three more years I stayed on as Chairman of the Board and for 50 years, I've been in banking for 50 years.

Coke: How are you doing in retirement?

Becker: All right. I've been retired now for 16 years.

Coke: Have you developed any hobbies? Perhaps you had some already. What are you doing for pass time?

Becker: I've done most everything. I fool with Camellias, I have a yard full of them, a greenhouse full of them. As I've gotten older it's gotten to be a little bit more than I can handle, like every body else takes on something, they take on more than they can handle. I have had to curtail my activities some in that area because I can't take the physical strain of going out and working all day long like I used to.

Coke: I remember this morning you told me you were driving your wife to the beauty parlor. When did you get married, Mr. Becker? Do you remember the date?

Becker: My wife and I have been married this coming October 29th will be 58 years.

Coke: Where did you meet your wife?

Becker: Here in Brookhaven when we were going to school, we were both about fifteen years old.

Coke: In other words you married your childhood sweetheart.

Becker: That's right. Our home presently backs up to her father's home on Jackson Street and we're on Church Street, we back up to the home where she was born.

Coke: Mr. Becker, this has really been a pleasure listening to you talk about the banking business because believe it or not, it's something a lot of people don't know a whole lot about, especially the history of things. As I told you before, we don't want to carry these on too long, but I'll be happy to come back again if you think of something you should have gotten in but you didn't, just let me know and we'll do another tape any time you want.

Becker: If you have a little more tape, I'd like to give you...There's basically two banks in the history of Brookhaven, [what was] then the Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company and the bank across the street, presently State Bank and Trust Company.

Coke: I've got plenty of tape and plenty of time, so you just go ahead.

Becker: O.K. The bank across the street where State Bank is was originally the Commercial Bank, which was run by my grandfather. It was originally located at 207 South Whitworth Avenue. They bought the property of the present location of State Bank, it was formed in 1887. In about 1906 they bought the property where State Bank presently is and my grandfather built the present building, most all of the present building except for the front which has changed some. They operated the Commercial Bank until 1914, when they had a run on the bank and the bank was forced to close. It should not have closed. It's one of the few banks that closed that paid off their depositors 100 cents on the dollar. After that bank closed, they formed the First National Bank. Mr. Brown Furlow was head of that bank and they operated from 1915 until 1931. They went insolvent and were forced to be closed by the regulatory authorities. They eventually paid off fifty six cents on the dollar to their depositors. In 1936, people in Brookhaven formed the State Bank and Trust Company, they went into business in 1936 and they've operated since. They are presently the only locally owned bank in Brookhaven.

Coke: You said your grandfather built that building, do you remember what year it was built?

Becker: About 1906. I've seen pictures in the newspaper where they had the grand opening of it. Its basically like it was originally built except for the front, they put a stone front on it but its really a brick building all the way around. My father had his business upstairs in the bank. He had the Underwriter's Agency, an insurance agency and ran Brookhaven Pressed Brick and Manufacturing Company in Brookhaven.

Coke: Let me go back to the Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company a moment and the great depression. How did the Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company do during the depression? Did it stay in business or go out?

Becker: Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company never closed its doors all through the depression. I'd have to say they probably bent a little bit, but they stood up to the strain and came through all right. The management was by the two families that basically owned the bank, the Brady family and the Moreton family and Mr. Moreton and Mr. Brady, T. Brady Jr. had his law office, he occupied the whole top floor of the bank building, at one time had a tremendous law business in Brookhaven. He represented all the railroads, insurance companies and had tremendous business. Mr. Moreton was basically in the lumber business. The two of them were the ones that brought the bank through the depression, it never closed and nobody lost even a dime in the bank.

Coke: That was the Brookhaven Bank. How about the other bank?

Becker: Which other bank?

Coke: Weren't there two banks in Brookhaven during the depression?

Becker: Yes, but the First National Bank closed in 1931, it was closed by the banking authorities for being illiquid. Like I said, they eventually paid off fifty six cents on the dollar to their depositors. They did not have FDIC insurance at that time.

Coke: You mentioned the name Mr. Moreton. Would you clarify which Moreton that was?

Becker: Mr. S.E. Moreton, Sr., a lifetime resident of Brookhaven. His father, A.E. Moreton, was one of the original incorporators of the Bank of Brookhaven, Mr. S.E. Moreton didn't come into the bank until about 1912.

Coke: S.E., I believe that S stands for Sam, does it not?

Becker: That's right. His father was A. E., Alfred E. Moreton. Their home is still on Jackson Street where Tom Moak lives, that's Mr. A. E. Moreton's home where his father lived and where he lived.

Coke: This is away from the banking business for just a minute, but we're talking about Moretons. We had a mayor here by the name of Alfred Moreton. How did he fit in with the other Moretons?

Becker: He was named after his father, S.E. Moreton's brother. He was A. E. Moreton and he was named after his father, A. E. Moreton Sr.

Coke: I see, I'm glad you clarified that. Is there anything else about the banking business before we get off, I've got plenty of tape, no problem. If you think of anything else you'd like to say, just go ahead.

Becker: No, that's a capsule account of the banking business in Brookhaven. There had been at least two other attempts to have banks in Brookhaven over the years, but neither one of them went very far. These two banks are described as having furnished the basic banking business for Brookhaven ever since Brookhaven has been here.

Coke: Thank you so much Mr. Becker, and we'll terminate our conversation here. Remember what I said: if you thing of something else, just let me know, we'll get it right on there.

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Interview Date
Interviewed by
Bob Coke