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Originally published July 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 3, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Obituary

Former Seafirst CEO Bill Jenkins "lived life fast, enjoyed it so much"

A decorated World War II veteran and retired head of Seafirst Bank, William "Bill" Jenkins named his 54-foot motor boat "Artful Dodger,"...

Seattle Times business reporter

A decorated World War II veteran and retired head of Seafirst Bank, William "Bill" Jenkins named his 54-foot motor boat "Artful Dodger," a rueful reference to his proclivity for running upon reefs and logs during his numerous outings in the waters off Washington state.

Wherever he went, he intended to get there quickly.

"He'd drop anchor, make a rum special and get out in the sun," said his wife of 20 years, Ann Ramsay-Jenkins.

"He lived life fast and enjoyed it so much."

Mr. Jenkins died Wednesday (June 27) at his home on Bainbridge Island after a long bout with cancer. He was 88.

Mr. Jenkins had just received his Masters of Business Administration from Harvard University in 1943 when he joined the U.S. Navy. He was selected for the Navy's Combat Demolition Unit, a precursor to the Navy SEALs, and was among the first to land on the beaches of Normandy in France on June 6, 1944. He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Croix d'Guerre with Palm for his efforts on D-Day.

Mr. Jenkins was born in Sultan to Warren and Louise Jenkins, a banker and homemaker. He graduated from Everett High School and the University of Washington, where, he liked to say, he majored in "fraternity and crew."

After World War II, he returned to the Puget Sound area to begin his banking career and marry his first wife, Betty Taber, now Betty Bottler, with whom he had seven children.

Mr. Jenkins rose to become chairman of the Everett Trust and Savings Bank in 1956 and six years later became chairman and CEO at Seafirst (then known as Seattle First National Bank), where he remained until his departure in 1982.

Seafirst, which for many years had been Washington state's largest bank, nearly collapsed that year after suffering large losses from Texas and Oklahoma energy loans.

Bank of America took over Seafirst in 1983, and Mr. Jenkins later told a federal-court jury during a case brought by Seafirst's insurance provider that he resigned from the bank rather than get fired.

Ramsay-Jenkins said he "took responsibility and moved on. He understood the disappointment. At the same time, he had built that bank from something that was, well, sort of standard, into an enormous financial institution."

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Dick Cooley, formerly with Wells Fargo in San Francisco, replaced Mr. Jenkins at Seafirst, serving as its chairman and CEO until 1990. "He couldn't have been nicer to me," Cooley said of Mr. Jenkins. "He went out of his way to introduce me to everyone and was a friend all the way through."

Mr. Jenkins served on the board of directors for numerous companies, including Safeco, United Airlines and Pacific Northwest Bell. In 1987, he married New Englander Ramsay-Jenkins, whom he had met through a mutual friend. She gave up a job as Harvard's budget director and moved to Seattle, where she became involved with local charities. She said he fondly referred to her as "his contribution to Seattle."

Mr. Jenkins also had an affinity for helicopters. "He'd pick me up on Bainbridge Island, and we'd fly over to the Space Needle and hover," she recalled, explaining that he considered it the best spot for people-watching. "It scared me to death," she added, laughing.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Jenkins is survived by his seven children: Cordy Beckstead of Wenatchee; Ann Rohrbacher of Goldendale, Klickitat County; William Jenkins of Seattle; Karen Olanna of Nome, Alaska; Peter Jenkins of Bethesda, Md.; David Jenkins of Lantana, Fla.; and Barbara Jenkins, of Shoreline. He also is survived by his wife's son, Adam Cornell of Edmonds, as well as 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

Donations may be made to the William M. Jenkins and Ann Ramsay-Jenkins Endowed Scholarship Fund at the College Success Foundation in Issaquah. The foundation provides college scholarships and mentoring to low-income students with high potential.

A reception will be held July 16 at 4 p.m. at the Men's University Club, 1004 Boren Ave., Seattle. There will be a private burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this story.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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