Robert Anderson, who grew up in public housing and for half a century benefited Columbus through community service and a career that began as an educator and ended as a barrier-breaking bank executive racial, died.
Mayor Skip Henderson confirmed the news to the Ledger-Enquirer. WRBL reported Anderson was at home when he died Thursday at age 80.
Henderson said Anderson battled health issues, including prostate cancer.
“In short, Robert was just a good, service-minded guy,” Henderson said. “In a world that desperately needs good guys, there’s now one less.”
Anderson was born in Russell County, but spent most of his childhood in the Warren Williams public housing complex in Columbus.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Anderson lived in a separate world as a young black man. He became a science teacher. When schools started integrating in the early 1970s, “I guess companies thought they might want to start thinking that way,” Anderson told LE in a 2015 interview.
While working a summer job with the Columbus Youth Opportunity organization, building trails and a parking lot at Cooper Creek Park, he met Synovus CEO Jim Blanchard, who was on tour with other bankers reviewing the project. The next morning, Anderson received a call from someone at Columbus Bank and Trust (owned by Synovus) offering him a job.
Anderson rose through the ranks at CB&T to become the bank’s first black executive as senior vice president of government banking. Along with retired Synovus executive vice president Calvin Smyre, he broke down racial barriers in the local business community, Henderson said.
“They were among the first African Americans to rise to the top in Columbus business and change the face of business in the community,” he said.
Anderson served as the first campaign manager for Smyre, who ended 48 years as a state representative in the Georgia Legislature when he opted out of seeking re-election this year.
“Robert Anderson was my brother and my dear friend,” Smyre told LE in a text message. “We have accomplished a lot together in the community during our friendship. . . . I owe him a lot. He was a true servant of the community.
Smyre referenced a famous Winston Church quote to further describe Anderson.
“You make a living from what you get; you make your life by what you give,” Smyre said. “Robert made his living by giving.”
Synovus Director of External Communications, Audria Belton, told LE in an email: “We appreciate all that Robert has contributed over his years at Synovus and for his impact on the community. We offer our condolences to his family and to those who had the pleasure of knowing him. »
After 36 years with Synovus, Anderson became president of the local division of Citizens Trust Bank in 2009. Two years later he retired and – coming full circle – returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher in the Muscogee County School District. He served on the school board from 1979 until 1988 when he was appointed by the grand jury.
Henderson met Anderson at Synovus, where they worked and traveled together while pursuing government banking contracts in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and played a lot of golf.
“He was a huge presence everywhere he went,” Henderson said. “It was kind of hard to miss Robert, if only for his booming voice.”
Golf was also a way for Anderson to raise money for college scholarships through the Purple and Gold Tournament he organized with the Lambda Iota chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. In 2018, the brotherhood added its name to the tournament title.
Another passion Anderson turned into community service was the arts. He had fond memories of what he called the “black mecca” that was the Liberty District, where black-owned businesses and entertainment venues once thrived. He became chairman of the historic Liberty Theater board, trying to help revitalize the area.
In 2017, the Liberty Theater established the Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence, an arts program designed to improve the lives of male students at Baker Middle School, where he began his teaching career.
According to his biography on Liberty Theater website, Anderson was an active member of the South Columbus United Methodist Church, where he was a certified lay leader. He also served as lay leader for the Northwest District of the South Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Anderson graduated from Spencer High School in 1960. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Fort Valley State University and a master’s degree in education from Georgia State University. He attended the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University and served four years in the US Air Force.
“Robert Anderson has been a mover and a shaker in every aspect: business, non-profit, community, religious, etc.,” City Manager Isaiah Hugley, who was a fraternity brother with Anderson, told the LE. “…He was a great man, a good friend, a mentor to so many people. … He was an example for many of us to follow. … We will miss Robert Anderson.
Funeral arrangements were not available prior to publication.
This story was originally published September 2, 2022 10:27 a.m.