LENOX — J. Williar “Bill” Dunlaevy of Lenox, a fixture in local banking circles for over 50 years, will retire as chair of the board of directors of Berkshire Hills Bancorp in September, the bank has announced.
Dunlaevy, 75, who has also served as board chair of several other Berkshire organizations, will officially step down from his position with Berkshire Bank’s holding company on Sept. 22.
As part of a preapproved succession plan, the board has voted unanimously to appoint its current vice chair, David M. Brunelle, to succeed Dunlaevy, and has elected Jeffrey W. Kip, the chief executive officer of Angi International, to fill Dunlaevy’s position on the board. Kip has also been designated as an audit committee financial expert and been appointed to the board’s compensation committee.
“I think it’s a good time for David Brunelle to take the chair,” said Dunlaevy, who was 72 when he became the Berkshire board’s chair in December 2019. The longtime president and CEO of the former Legacy Banks, Dunlaevy had joined Berkshire’s executive team after Berkshire purchased Legacy in 2011.
In a telephone interview with The Eagle, Dunlaevy said he decided to step away now because he believes that Berkshire Bank has begun to right itself after several years of turmoil. Since Nitin J. Mhatre, Berkshire’s third CEO in the past four years, joined the company in January, the bank appears to be on a more even course, he said.
“I am very confident the bank is in a great place,” he said. “It was a rough year (2020) with all the manifestations of COVID, doing a [CEO] search, and operating with an interim CEO, but I think everybody feels better about the bank now; bank analysts certainly do. “
Dunleavy, who spent more than 40 years at Legacy, became Berkshire board chair when he succeeded the former chair, longtime New England banking executive William Ryan, who resigned for health reasons.
“I didn’t expect to chair the board, but Bill Ryan said he had a progressive illness and he and the nominating committee asked me to step in,” he said. “I was surprised and pleased to do it. ... There were unusual circumstances when I took the tiller. ... Then there were new circumstances with a new CEO and the board was going to have to work with him for a period of time to take us through this transition.
With Mhatre having received high marks from investors, “I said I would be more comfortable now that this was the ideal time to step away,” Dunleavy said.
“If things didn’t work out with Nitin, I might not have been able to say no,” he said, “but this is the right time; the right time to leave.”
Dunlaevy reiterated those feelings in his farewell remarks to the board, which he sent to The Eagle via email.
“I have been associated with this bank in one form or another for 52 years. In today’s world, that is an embarrassment of longevity,” he wrote. “For me it is an embarrassment of riches: the innumerable customers I have witnessed achieve their goals and dreams with the support of this bank, the colleagues I have been privileged to work with, and the roles I have been able to play in the community with the support of the bank.”
Dunleavy joined Legacy, then known as City Savings Bank after the Greenwich, Conn., native graduated from Bowdoin College in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and government. He originally didn’t expect go into banking after college — “It wasn’t part of the plan,” he said — but became interested in the field after being recruited into General Electric’s financial management program.
“We were all classed together in Schenectady (N.Y.),” Dunlaevy said. “That’s how I ended up here (in the Berkshires).”
“I like numbers. I like finance. I like doing it at a scale that I thought would be better for me at the community level,” he said. “I loved the community aspect.”
He served as Legacy’s president and CEO from 1994 to 2010, retiring eight months before the bank’s pending sale to Berkshire was first announced. He had also served as chair and CEO of Legacy Bank’s holding company and the bank’s foundation.
In 2009, Legacy received preliminary approval from the U.S. Treasury Department to receive $20 million during the federal bailout of financial institutions following the Great Recession, but Dunlaevy turned it down.
Outside of banking, Dunleavy served as board chair of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in Sheffield from 2006 to 2016; as board director and investment committee chair of the Savings Bank Life Insurance Co. of Massachusetts between 2004 and 2014; and as treasurer of the Literacy Network of South Berkshire in Lee from 2010 to 2011. He also chaired the Berkshire Community College board of trustees for several years.
In 2006, Dunleavy headed the consortium of five local banks that provided funding for Pittsfield’s downtown cinema project, which later became the Beacon Cinema.
Dunleavy, who also owns a retreat near Goose Pond in Lee, said he plans to spend his retirement participating in outdoor pursuits like kayaking. One place he won’t be found is on the golf course.
“I actually have given away my golf clubs,” he said. “I tried to tell myself that I liked it but I didn’t have the passion for it.”