Today my father, Robert (“Bob”) Skurka, finishes a 44-year thru-hike of the banking services industry. Like most long walks through the wilderness, his career gave him purpose and identity, and included both peaks and valleys. I’m unconvinced that he’ll take to a conventional retirement — to an even greater degree than his successor, he quickly gets restless — but I’m hoping that a few weeks or months at home will help inspire his next act.
By the mid-1980’s — when my earliest memories begin — my father was settled at Durfee-Attleboro Bank in Fall River, Mass., as a commercial loan officer. It would prove to be the position that he was best at, that he enjoyed the most, and that he would finish his career with in 2018 at Bristol County Savings Bank in Taunton.
Essentially, my father worked with established local companies that needed extra capital, like to fund inventory, purchase new machinery, or construct a new office building. Making loans that only occasionally crept into 7-figures was not as sexy as investment banking, private equity, or venture capital, but everyday he helped small business owners fulfill their goals, feed their families, and create jobs. My dad took his work seriously, often to the detriment of his personal well-being; and, based on his narrow extracurricular interests, it seemed to intellectually satisfy him.
During the consolidation of the banking industry in the 1990’s and early-2000’s, he had the experience of being both the acquirer and the acquiree. Durfee-Attleboro became South Shore Bank, where he was a Senior Vice President until BankBoston took over in 1994 and consolidated the corporate hierarchy.
Trying times followed. The family finances got tight, especially when his unemployment surpassed his severance. I trace my own frugality to this period, specifically when my mother — while driving the streets of Seekonk in our royal blue Caravan — disclosed the situation and asked me to be more conscious of my needs and wants.
But even tougher to manage during this time was my dad’s loss of self-worth. Dad always saw himself as as provider for my mother, sisters, and me — and he no longer was. Dad is also a doer, and without a project to focus his energy he will drive everyone around him nuts.
But it can’t always get worse. And his next employer, FirstFed of Swansea, Mass., would change his fortunes. He oversaw the Business Banking division as a Vice President, and financially benefited when the bank went public in 2001 and was purchased by Webster Bank in 2003. He is loyal to a fault and hung on with Webster longer than he should have, but finally jumped to Bristol County nine years ago.
This proudly local and old-fashioned institution became the perfect exit, by governing my dad’s hard-working instincts. He couldn’t access his email from outside the office. He had to leave promptly at 5pm, when his Pawtucket branch closed. Management tasked him with informally training younger loan officers. And the bank paid for golfing tournaments so that he could golf with clients during the summer. Each fall when my dad would complain about needing to work five days per week again, I knew that his time was near.
What’s next for Bob? I don’t know, and neither does he. For now, I wish him the best, and a huge congratulations for everything he has done. I’m sure there’s another walk in him still.
Love you, Dad.