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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

We are starting off the New Year by looking at some people from Trousdale County’s past.

Many men and women with vibrant personalities have trod the streets and pathways of our small county. And despite our size, we can boast of local people who have made the state and even national footlights. This month and the next, we will be meeting a few.

The banking business sometimes gets a bad rap from the press. There are cases of bank fraud or banks with poor lending practices. But, Hartsville and Trousdale County have been blessed with banks that have always been honest and fair – and some of the credit goes to the people who have worked there!

Submitted photo
Ruby Burford was fresh out of high school when she started work at the old Bank of Hartsville. Here she is with her co-workers, from left: Manye Hammock, Ruby, Roberta Welch Perkins and Russell Wright.

Our interesting person this week was a lady who spent her entire life working at a bank and did so with the charm and grace of a true Southern lady – “Miss Ruby” Thompson.

I had the opportunity to interview Miss Ruby after she retired from the banking business.

Miss Ruby was born in Dixon Springs. Her maiden name was Burford and the family had deep roots in Middle Tennessee.

One story Miss Ruby told me had to do with her ancestor’s log cabin back when they had first settled in this area.

Tools were few and the time to make things was even rarer because the men of the family had to plant a large corn crop if they expected to survive when winter came. After building the cabin, her great-grandfather didn’t have time to make much furniture, so until fall and cold weather came he would take down the door to the cabin every morning and the family would use it for a dining table.

Every night, he put it back in place to keep varmints and wild Indians out. And every morning he took it back down!

When Miss Ruby finished high school in 1929 she wanted to go to college, but a relative asked her to come to work at the old Bank of Hartsville because one of the clerks was sick.

Ruby was related to the bank’s president, Russell Wright, and the cashier, Rom Puryear. They knew she was dependable and honest. As it turned out, when the sick employee returned to work, the men asked Ruby to keep working.

By that time, she had found that she enjoyed the work and especially meeting the people who came in daily or weekly to conduct business. So when they asked her to stay on, she did.

The first month she worked full time, she was paid a whopping $35! For a while she would also sell tickets at the Hartsville Theatre each day after her banking job was over.

Ruby met her husband, Buford Thompson, when he moved to Hartsville with his parents. His father ran the local ice factory! This was before people had refrigerators in their homes and ice was delivered door to door. Buford would also get a job at the bank and the two worked side by side their entire careers.

She and Buford eloped, she told me, still blushing at her age.

Miss Ruby stressed to me just how much banking had changed over the years.

When she worked her way up to be the president of the bank, there were very few women in the banking business and fewer in positions of authority. But she had been preceded in the job by Miss Mayne Hammoch, so the bank was happy with women at the helm.

Loans were sometimes approved with just a handshake and little paperwork.

One example was when an old farmer came onto the bank to pay off his loan. He had just sold his tobacco crop and owed the bank $100.

The clerk looked for the papers to go with the note and couldn’t find any. The old man was resolute. He said, “I owe you $100 and I am here to pay it, whether you have the papers or not… I know what I owe!”

So they took his payment.

Another incident she found humorous was when she and Buford had gone on a short vacation and left clerk Marie Wilburn in charge. The bank vault had a timer on the door that would keep it locked until a certain time the next morning.

Marie locked up the bank one evening but overset the clock for the next morning. When she got there the next day, the vault wouldn’t open. Panicked, she called Ruby and Buford.

They told her to walk down the street to the Citizen’s Bank and borrow enough cash to open the doors and last until the clock on the vault would let her in. So, she did just that.

This was, of course, just a good example of how people in small towns help each other out, even if they are your competitors!

Next week, more stories from Miss Ruby!

NOTE: A reminder that the Historical Society will meet on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 2 p.m. at the Trousdale County Archives building on Broadway.