Mentioned in last night’s Obama speech to Congress…Miami banker, Leonard Abess Jr., is having the best week ever!
Miami banker thrilled over Obama mention
Low-key Miami banker Leonard Abess Jr. is overwhelmed and humbled by the high profile attention from President Obama.
BY MARTHA BRANNIGAN
Leonard Abess Jr. — the Miami banker praised for his generosity to employees by President Obama in Tuesday’s speech to Congress — said that as he sat with other guests in the first lady’s box, he didn’t know if he’d get mentioned.
”It was, I felt, a remarkable speech, and I was watching the president speaking to Congress, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Cabinet,” he said. “The last thing I thought about was me and whether I would be mentioned. It was enough just to be there.”
But near the end of the address, Obama described Abess’ surprise $60 million bonus to his employees. Saying ”hope is found in unlikely places,” Obama said: ‘I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, `I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.’ ”
The banker drew a standing ovation from the audience and responded with a thumbs-up.
Last November, Abess, 60, gave the bonus to current and former staffers at City National Bank, including tellers, clerks and bookkeepers, after selling a majority stake in the company to Spanish banking giant Caja Madrid. He didn’t publicize the move, but it became public in a Feb. 15 article in The Miami Herald.
Abess’ story — coming at a time when bankers are under criticism for greed and recklessness — drew wide attention. The White House invited him to be the first lady’s guest at the speech but provided few details of what might happen.
Abess attended with Geneva Lawson, who worked 51 years at the bank and is currently a safety-deposit clerk.
Before the speech, Abess and Lawson joined other guests and Michelle Obama at a White House gathering. ”Mrs. Obama came in and warmly greeted everybody and said a few words,” he said. ”It was brief but very warm.” His family joined him and watched from the White House. Other guests included Ty’Sheoma Bethea, who wrote a touching letter to Congress after Obama visited her depressed school in Dillon, S.C.
After the White House gathering, Abess and Lawson were shuttled by bus to the Capitol. Abess said ”part of him” is still mystified by all the attention. “I always known I would do this for employees if I ever sold the bank.”
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