Respect, Community Roots Lead Donnie Gay to the Top

Banking On ItRespect and roots in the community have led Donnie Gay to the top   By John Eric Vona


Donnie Gay was abruptly awakened by a phone call in the early-morning hours of Nov. 15 last year. A seafood truck had smashed into the bank where he worked — into his very office, in fact — caught fire and burned down a good portion of the historic building.

Gay isn’t holding a grudge, though. “Seafood is my favorite meal,” he jokes. “Nothing better than a raw oyster.”

Gay’s parents are from Apalachicola and, though he was born in South Carolina, the family returned home to the area when he was 2 years old. His first job came at the age of 14, when he worked as a box maker for a local seafood house, assembling pre-cut cardboard after school for a nickel a box. He started working at a local bank doing clerical work while he was a senior at Apalachicola High School, and the bank kept him on full time for the summer, working around his schedule while he went to Gulf Coast Community College.

“It was never a plan of mine to be a banker forever,” Gay says. “It just worked out that way.”

It may not have been a plan, but it certainly has worked out. Now, as senior vice president of Apalachicola State Bank, the 38-year-old Gay has risen to prominence in business and has become a financial go-to guy for the community, serving on a multitude of boards and committees. He is an active member of the Rotary Club, serves as treasurer of the Forgotten Coast Chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, sits on the advisory council of Big Bend Hospice and is the 2008 – 2009 chairman for United Way of Big Bend Franklin County Unit. In the past, he has served as an Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce board member and sat on the board of East Point Water and Sewer, a position he was first appointed to by former Gov. Lawton Chiles and then reappointed to by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Gay also teaches one course a semester through the American Institute of Bankers on the principles of banking, banking history and basic banking laws.

His duties with Apalachicola State Bank primarily include lending and overseeing bank operations in Franklin County.

“We have more of a focus on collections than ever before because the economy is such that you have to,” Gay says, referring to the current economic crisis. “It has changed everybody, personally or in business.”

It may have affected many people, but the economic downturn hasn’t changed his advice for business success.

“You have to be able to take criticism so you don’t get your feelings hurt,” Gay says, a characteristic he attributes to his parents. “I was raised to take things without getting upset.”

That philosophy has helped him make friends in his Forgotten Coast town.

“I find him to be very receptive to any suggestion and very easy to work with,” says “Bubba” Gander, 87. Gander retired as chairman of the board for Gay’s bank in 2002 but over the years developed a close relationship with Gay, who affectionately calls Gander “the grandfather I never had.”

Gay’s paternal grandfather died before he was born and his maternal grandfather passed away when he was 7. He always tries to make an effort to invite Gander to social and bank events because of the man’s wealth of knowledge and numerous stories about life in Apalachicola and Apalachicola State Bank, one of the oldest banks in Florida.

And what’s next for that bank after the accident in November? Gay is in contact with the architect and Apalachicola State Bank plans to rebuild the historic structure, which opened more than 100 years ago.

“I take great pride in the history not only of the town, but in the history of the banking industry,” Gay says.