Business: After Half A Century, David Willard Retires From Cape Cod Five

By: Debra Lawless

Cape Cod Five's David Willard will retire after 50 years with the community bank. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

David Willard has accomplished what few do in these job-hopping times: he is retiring after 50 years with Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank.

“I never wanted to work anywhere else since I started,” Willard said last week during a breakfast interview in the Optimist Café in Yarmouth Port, not far from his office in West Yarmouth. “It was my home.”

Willard joined the bank back in June 1967, at the beginning of the Summer of Love. At that time the bank had 21 employees spread across its three branches in Orleans, Chatham and Harwich. The annual Christmas party for employees and their spouses was held in the treasurer’s house in Riverbay. Today the bank has over 500 employees and over $3 billion in assets. The 19 branches throw their own holiday parties.

Willard, who now lives in Wellfleet, grew up in the Rock Harbor neighborhood of Orleans. He went off to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as an English major but after his sophomore year he had an accident that kept him home. While recuperating, he resumed the profession he had engaged in while in high school—writing sports for the Cape Codder newspaper at 10 cents per inch. “I’d been a sports fanatic all my life,” he recalls. “Baseball, especially. That appealed to me.” At the Cape Cod Standard Times he was named assistant sports editor; he stayed there for three or four years. (He also wrote a sports column for The Chronicle called Pro Potpourri.)

Almost by chance he was offered a job at Hyannis Cooperative Bank. Willard joined the bank at a salary of $100 per week—exactly what he was earning at the newspaper. He went through teller training and for a time worked as the only male teller in the Chatham branch.

“My non-love affair with numbers would rear its ugly head because I loved the interaction at the counter with people,” he says. Alas, the other tellers had to stay late helping Willard balance his cash drawer “to the penny.”

Later on, his fiancée happened to live next door to the president of Cape Cod Five, and that is how he ended up switching banks in June 1967. He managed the Orleans branch of Cape Cod Five for 14 years.

“Each manager did everything from soup to nuts,” he says. “To this day I still have people coming up to me and saying, ‘You gave me our mortgage in 1973.’”

Later he became the bank’s chief lending officer. And 20 years ago he went to work with Cape Cod Five Charitable Trust Foundation. In 1998 he took his current title, vice president, director of community relations. Given leeway to define his job, he veered toward working with nonprofit organizations.

“Nonprofits, number one, are so important to the area,” he says. “Think of what an economic engine, a driver [they are].” The nonprofits’ contribution to the gross economic product on the Cape is “quite staggering,” he adds.

Philanthropy is one of the “five pillars” of Cape Cod Five’s community engagement. Through its trust, the bank offers financial support for nonprofits that “support and enhance the vibrancy and vitality of our communities.” For two years, the bank has given nonprofits $1.2 million annually and is on target to do that again this year.

At one point Willard served on the boards of 10 nonprofits devoting themselves to abused women, the homeless, health, food banks and the arts. He has been involved with groups as diverse as the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance in Chatham and We Can in Harwich Port.

Willard “should feel incredibly gratified by the lasting contributions he has made to the bank, the community and the people who have been affected by his presence in their lives,” Cape Cod Five President and CEO Dorothy A. Savarese wrote in an email. “Dave’s optimism, strong values, unflagging energy and focus on collaboration combined to make the impossible possible.”

There is no doubt that Willard’s co-workers will miss this cheerful man who punctuates almost everything he says with a charming smile. He departs his home in Wellfleet at 5:30 a.m. to drive to West Yarmouth, missing the summer traffic but driving in the pitch dark during half the year. Arriving at his office at 6:30 a.m., he picks up the newspapers, puts the coffee on. Many days he doesn’t arrive home until 6 p.m., over 12 hours after he departed.

Serving on boards means Willard attends many meetings each month. How does he do it?

“Because I’m a morning person I have bribed boards to meet earlier,” he says, smiling. He has a standing order at Hole in One Donut Shop for two or three boxes of “decadent confections”—those are his “bribe.”

One imagines that for Willard, retiring will be a challenge.

“I might not know what’s down the road, but I look forward to enjoying the rest,” he says. A bout with pneumonia a month ago sidelined him for a time, and his doctor warned him to cut back on his “crazy hours.” After he retires at the end of the year he plans to take six months to get his bearings.

“I have the great fortune to work with a community bank—one of the last standing—that believes in giving back to the community,” he says. “It’s really been a love affair for me for 50 years.”