William F. Melville Jr., 80, 1st president, chief executive officer of MBNA America

October 14, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William F. Melville Jr., who was the first president and chief executive officer of MBNA America, died Wednesday at FutureCare Chesapeake in Arnold of respiratory failure from Alzheimer's disease. The Severna Park resident was 80.

Mr. Melville, a longtime Roland Park resident who had lived in Severna Park since 1995, rose from bank teller to become president and CEO of the credit card giant.

He began as a teller in 1946 with Fidelity Trust in Baltimore, which was later acquired by Maryland National Bank. He was elected assistant cashier in 1956 and named vice president of consumer services in 1962.

Mr. Melville managed and was responsible for all consumer credit activities for Maryland National Bank's 66 offices in the Baltimore-Washington region, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.

Mr. Melville led the bank into the credit card business when he negotiated the purchase in 1967 of Charg-It Baltimore, a locally owned credit card program. In 1969, he was elected senior vice president of the bank and converted Maryland National Bank's credit card portfolio to Master Charge, making MNB the 13th bank in the nation to offer credit cards, the predecessor of MasterCard.

In 1982, Maryland National Bank formed MBNA America and later moved the business from Maryland to Delaware. Since then, MBNA America has become a publicly held company and grown into the largest independent credit card issuer in the world with $92.6 billion in managed loans.

Mr. Melville retired in 1985.

He had been president of the Maryland Bankers Association, vice president of the American Bankers Association and a former board member of First Federal Life Insurance Co.

"He was one of the smartest men I've ever known, " said Charlie Cawley, chief executive officer of MBNA America, who was brought to Baltimore from Boston in 1970 by Mr. Melville. "He was just plain smart and a very deliberate man.

"Bill's vision and persistence ensured that the basic foundation for the future of MBNA was put firmly in place. In a very real sense, we have always thought of Bill as our pioneering founder, and our leader, counselor and friend."

Joseph F. Matthai Jr., who worked for 32 years with Mr. Melville at Maryland National Bank and retired as a vice president in 1986, described him as the "most honest, thoughtful man I've ever known. He was the brain behind credit cards at MNB."

He recalled that when Mr. Melville moved MNBA to Newark, Del., in 1982 because of more favorable laws, it wasn't to some flashy headquarters building but rather a former supermarket.

"He was a man who could visualize things," Mr. Matthai said. "He had a keen mind and knew how to work and train people."

In later years, the two men shared their passion for sailing.

Born and raised on 31st Street in Waverly, Mr. Melville was the son of a plumber. He was a 1939 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School, attended Loyola College and was a graduate of the Graduate School of Retail Bank Management at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"He always said if banking didn't work out, he could always return to being a plumber," said his daughter, April M. Clark of Severna Park, with a laugh.

Mr. Melville was a plumber's helper with his father, a prominent pigeon racer in Baltimore, before enlisting in the Army in 1942.

Because he knew about pigeons, he was given command of the 281st Signal Pigeon Company of the Army Signal Corps, one of two such units that functioned during World War II. He was a member of Gen. George S. Patton's staff during the Battle of the Bulge.

He remained a reserve officer in the Army and was discharged in 1953 as a lieutenant.

The 6-foot-3-inch Mr. Melville enjoyed weightlifting and competitive swimming. In 1940, he entered the 12-mile Chesapeake Bay swim from Tolchester, on the Eastern Shore, to Bay Shore and finished in second place with a time of 7 hours and 19 minutes.

Later, he set backstroke championship records in the Maryland Senior Olympics and the National Senior Olympics.

He also enjoyed reading and travel.

In 1944, Mr. Melville married Shirley Hunt, who died last year.

He was a former parishioner of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.

Mr. Melville was a communicant of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, Ritchie Highway and Cypress Creek Road in Severna Park, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday .

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two sisters, Mary Melville of Perry Hall and Ethel Wille of Madonna; and a granddaughter.

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