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Business Observer Friday, May 3, 2019 3 weeks ago

In Memoriam: John Watts, 1951-2019

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The Cadence Bank executive is remembered as the 'dean of commercial banking' in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay banking sector lost a towering figure, in more ways than one, April 18 when John Watts, executive vice president of commercial banking for Cadence Bank’s Florida division, died unexpectedly at age 67.

Watts joined Birmingham, Ala.-based Cadence Bank in 2012 following nearly 25 years with Wells Fargo. He began his banking career in 1975 at Exchange Bank, in his hometown of Haines City, Polk County. 

Teresa Stinson, a senior commercial relationship manager who worked with Watts at Cadence’s Tampa office, says he was nothing less than “the world’s greatest boss and friend.”

Watts was also a devoted family man, according to his official obituary, married, to Rosemary Watts, for 40 years. He's survived by Rosemary Watts and the couple's three children. "He had a contagious joy for life, great sense of humor and a generous and loving heart that will be greatly missed," the obituary stated. "His zest for life was experienced through his many travels and adventures with Rosemary."

Outside family and banking, Watts was involved in several area philanthropic organizations. Boards he was on include the Tampa Museum of Art, St. Petersburg Opera, and the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church Foundation.

“John had a long and storied banking career in the Tampa market,” says Cadence Bank CEO Sam Tortorici. “I would call him the dean of commercial banking — he was an outstanding, very connected banker.”

Tortorici formed a close working relationship with Watts, having personally recruited him to join Cadence. He says the qualities that made Watts so successful are “too many to list, but first would be he was a man of deep integrity. Second, his connectivity in the market. He was involved in many key nonprofits, including the Tampa Museum of Art. And the way he led his team — he always recruited outstanding bankers and led them by example.”

At six feet four inches, Watts could also be an intimidating physical presence.

“He was revered, a real no-nonsense guy, and everybody immediately noticed him in any room he ever walked in,” Tortorici says. “But he was always very real, never pretentious — what you see is what you get. Very down to earth, despite all of his success. John was also one of the most fit and healthy people that any of us knew, so his sudden passing was quite the surprise.”

Tortorici and Watts traveled to Atlanta together in January to recruit an executive to fill the same role as Watts, in a Georgia market. During that trip, Tortorici queried Watts about his plans for the future and asked him for a few months’ notice if he intended to retire.

“He just laughed and said, ‘Retire? I’m having too much fun,'" says Tortorici. "He was passionate about his work and passionate about his clients. He loved what he did.”

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