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Lee Stewart receives Headrick Free Enterprise Award

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January 25, 2017
            J. Lee Stewart, a career banker, is the 2017 recipient of the M.C. Headrick Free Enterprise Award.
            The Headrick Award is the highest recognition presented by the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and honors the memory of one of the most outstanding business executives Cleveland/Bradley County has ever produced. M.C. Headrick believed wholeheartedly in the fundamental concepts of the free enterprise system.
            Stewart is president and CEO and director of Southern Heritage Bank and has more than 40 years of banking experience.
            Officials recognized Stewart during special ceremonies at the 91st Annual Meeting of the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at Peerless Road Church. He became the third member of an elite group, including Ron Braam and Bob Card, that has received both the Headrick Award and the Robert Varnell Leadership Award.
            Lee Stewart began his career in 1972 at American National Bank in Chattanooga as business development officer and credit officer. In 1980 he joined First National Bank of Columbus, Georgia, to organize the bank’s internal loan review functions and later was promoted to vice president of commercial lending. In 1985 he joined First American National Bank in Bristol, Tennessee, as senior vice president for commercial lending and was promoted to city president in 1988 before being transferred in early 1990 to the Cleveland office of First American, where he served as city president until mid-1998.
            Stewart’s 45 years in the banking industry, with 24 of those years in Cleveland/Bradley County, are evidence of his “staying power,” a criterion for the award. As a successful banker, he has consistently sought out continuing education to ensure he remained on the cutting edge of his industry.
“I have known Lee Stewart for many years and have watched him with his easy smile and winsome personality become an outstanding businessman in the Cleveland/Bradley County area,” James Lane, Community Animal Hospital, said.
He has been instrumental in the growth and prosperity of the area.
            Although he had already established a reputation for being an excellent banker, he was selected to become president and CEO of a new community bank being formed in late 1998. Southern Heritage Bank was created as a true community bank with more than 800 shareholders. These investors proudly supported this new bank and encouraged family and friends to bank with Southern Heritage Bank. His expertise and community support have grown the bank from 13 employees to over 70 today. Bank assets have climbed since that opening over 1,500 percent.
“Through his initiatives and efforts, Mr. Stewart has led Southern Heritage Bank with outstanding success for 19 years,” said Julian Robinson, former director of the Department of Business and Records and CFO for the Church of God International Offices. “SHB continues to earn the trust of Cleveland and Bradley County and has continued to receive top ratings for its strength and soundness by independent rating firms such as Bauer Financial, Weiss Ratings, and Siegfried and Brew.”
Last summer the bank completed a its merger with First Citizen’s Bank of Dyersburg, creating more improved services, improved digital channels for customers to bank 24/7 and a call center with extended hours. The merger also gives Southern Heritage bankers a much larger branch and ATM network.
Said Robinson, “Southern Heritage Bank’s economic success is a direct result of Lee Stewart’s abilities and leadership.”
            As a reflection of his high moral and ethical standards, Stewart drafted the following mission statement during the organization of Southern Heritage: “To be a community-owned provider of financial services, operating to help consumers and small businesses reach their financial goals, to promote the economic health of Cleveland and Bradley County, to enhance shareholder value and to reflect Christian values in all of our business relationships.”
            The board approved the statement and, upon Stewart’s recommendation, approved flying the Christian flag, closing the bank on Good Friday and giving back to the community through an annual food drive to help United Way agencies stock their pantries. The bank flies the Christian flag at its three full-service banks in Bradley County.
            “I am most impressed with Lee for his constant Christian witness,” Lane expressed. “I have been fortunate to participate with Lee in C-12, a Christian business group. I always value his opinion and have heard his heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
This year’s Headrick Award winner chooses to live a life that demonstrates Christian servanthood. His involvements include serving as a campaign co-chair and chairman of the board for United Way of the Ocoee Region, creating the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club in Cleveland, forming the Greater Cleveland Soccer Foundation and becoming its president, and serving as chairman of the board and treasurer of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. He too has served on the boards of the Cleveland Family YMCA, Cherokee Area Council of Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region.
            Stewart is past recipient of the William F. Johnson United Way Community Service Award and is a Paul Harris Fellow (Rotary). He was the first business recipient of the Community First Award given recently by Cleveland State Community College
            He and his wife, Cynthia, are involved and supportive members of First United Methodist Church.
            “Lee best exemplifies the best the free enterprise system can produce,” Lloyd Rogers, president of Wholesale Supply Group Inc., said. “His high moral and ethical standards, commitment and determination have combined to merit this fine distinction.”
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Contact:
Nancy Neal, Vice President, Communications
NNeal@clevelandchamber.com, (423) 472-6587
 

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