(Editor's note: the Greensboro News-Record profiled Sis's career in its April 26 edition. Please click here to read it.)
Elizabeth “Sis” Hamilton, who is thought to be the longest serving employee/volunteer in the history of the US credit union movement, was honored by Summit Credit Union at a special reception on Thursday evening. Hamilton, who became secretary/treasurer of the Tri-City Telco CU (now Summit) as a teenager, served 70 years in the credit union movement.
The reception followed Summit's 78th Annual Meeting, which was held at the Clarion Hotel in Greensboro. In her last official act at the credit union, Hamilton, who served on the nominating committee for the board, read the list of candidates for the board election.
More than 50 Summit member and staff joined with Hamilton's friends to give her a fine send-off at the reception that followed the Annual Meeting. Attendees were invited to come to the podium and share their thoughts and memories of Hamilton through the years. All praised her gracious nature, her strength of character and her influence on their own careers through the years.
Hamilton thanked everyone in attendance and said that she had no regrets. "If I could go back and change any of the choices I've made I wouldn't," she said. Hamilton also paid tribute to another special guest in attendance. "I could not have done it without Jim, my husband," she said.
Hamilton earned special salutes from many different credit union dignitaries and organizations. The League presented Hamilton with a flag that recently flew over the State's Capitol building. "Sis Hamilton is a defining figure in the North Carolina credit union movement," noted NCCUL President John Radebaugh, who presented Hamilton with the flag. "Her steady leadership and influence has helped Summit and many other credit unions thrive. Along the way, she has been a mentor, friend and influencer of countless credit union leaders throughout the country. She will be missed."
Summit CEO Sam Whitehurst remarked that when he came to the credit union in 2003 following Hamilton's retirement, he wasn't sure what to expect. After all, he was replacing a legend and leader who had been in place 55 years ... and who was remaining on the Summit board. In the end, he recalled, he was grateful that she remained involved at Summit.
"What I found in Sis was a wealth of knowledge," Whitehurst said. "Sis is an insatiable reader of everything business and always has been. But, as knowledgeable as she is, she is even more gracious, supportive and kind. I could not have asked for a better board member than the lady whose name is on the building I work in. Sis is a class act and I am proud to have spent the last 10 years learning from her.” Whitehurst also announced the credit union was making a special $25,000 gift to the Elizabeth Hamilton Scholarship Fund, which will allow the fund to meet the educational needs of more students in the future.
"Sis was one of the first leaders to welcome me to the world of credit unions," said Willie Combs, who retired as President/CEO of Premier FCU. Combs began her career as a teller and steadily worked her way up through the ranks. "She immediately became a friend and over the years, a mentor. Sis is an amazing woman of great strength with a kind and gently nature that never waivers. She's the real deal. She lives the credit union philosophy like nobody else."
Other accolades included a special letter from CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney. "Your service is notable not only for its duration, but for the way it has embodied our movement's spirit of people helping people," Cheney wrote. Cheney also acknowledged Hamilton's 21 years of service on the CUNA board, as well as the 25 years she spent on the NC Credit Union League board.
Whitehurst noted Hamilton provided leadership on the state and national level that helped credit unions evolve into modern financial institutions by fighting to ensure that products such as checking accounts, credit cards and mortgages could be offered. As a result, credit unions thrived and were able to help members nationwide build wealth and tap into the American dream.
Hamilton was the first woman to serve on the League board. Her career has gained her numerous accolades in the industry including the 2003 prestigious Order of Longleaf Pine and the 2007 Larry Johnson Order of Merit Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest award presented to NC credit union leaders. In 2012 she was named North Carolina Credit Union Volunteer of the Year.