Masonic Lodge honors Bill Hartley

Bill Hartley and his wife Billie stand at the altar of Tyler's Masonic lodge to receive the "Builder of the Year" award in this 2011 file photo. (Tyler Morning Telegraph/File photo)

Southside Bank Founder and philanthropist B.G. Bill Hartley has died, leaving behind a legacy of faith and generosity. 

He was 88.

Hartley, alongside Murph Wilson, founded Southside Bancshares in 1960 and served as its chief executive officer for more than 50 years, until his retirement in 2014. He served as chairman emeritus of the board until his death.

As large as his impact in the business world was, Hartley was also a key figure in philanthropic efforts in East Texas.

Former state senator and Tyler mayor Kevin Eltife, who now serves on the University of Texas Board of Regents, said the community will miss having Hartley there to help with tough issues.

“I’ve worked with Mr. Hartley on community issues for the past 25 years and no matter what the issue was, when we needed help in this community, Bill Hartley was there,” Eltife said Monday. “I learned an awful lot from him, early on in my days on the city council and mayor.”

Hartley began his banking career at Guaranty Bond Bank in his hometown of Mt. Pleasant before being recruited to work as a bank examiner by the State Banking Department. He rose to the rank of examiner in charge of the San Antonio office before returning to East Texas to open Southside.

Hartley married Billie Boyd, of Chandler, on Jan. 3, 1959. They have two children, Jane Hartley Coker and Patrick Boyd Hartley, deceased. Jane and husband Michael C. Coker have one son, Hartley Craig Coker.

Over the years Hartley received many accolades for his accomplishments in banking and his service to the community.

Tyler attorney Gaylord T. Hughey Jr. described Hartley as a community leader who gave more than his fair share back to the community.

"He will be missed. Those types of leadership roles are difficult, if not impossible to fulfill," Hughey said. "He was a great banker and a great person whose character was beyond reproach."

Hartley and his wife Billie were co-recipients of many awards for the impact they had in East Texas.

Some of the accolades he was most proud of included the T.B. Butler Award for Tyler’s Most Outstanding Citizen, the Distinguished Citizen Good Turn Award from the East Texas Area Council of Boy Scouts of America and the East Texas Communities Foundation Philanthropy Award.

"Bill will be remembered as a strong leader, people person, community builder and highly dedicated successful banker," said Jim Perkins, chairman of Citizens 1st Bank. "Bill had great support, which he knew and appreciated from his wife Billie and daughter Jane. Bill was wholly dedicated to the success of Southside Bank and thoroughly appreciated its customers and fellow employees." 

Hartley served on the board for East Texas Medical Center Regional Health Care System and also on the Mother Frances Hospital Advisory Board and Governing Board. He also served on the board and committees of the American Bankers Association, the Texas Bankers Association and Texas Independent Bank.

Former East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System CEO Elmer Ellis said he could talk all day about the difference Hartley made in the community.

Ellis said Hartley was a man of strong faith committed to Tyler and East Texas.

“He was a wonderful board member, a personal mentor, my employer and my banker,” Ellis said. “Probably the most important one was, I loved him. He was a friend.”

Ellis said Hartley was revered in the community because of his incredible generosity.

“Bill Hartley truly touched every aspect of this community,” he said.

Beyond business, Hartley served his community in a wide array of roles. He was director and president of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and a director and past president of the Texas Rose Festival.

He also was a former director of several community organizations, including United Way of Tyler, Junior Achievement of Tyler, East Texas Symphony Association and the Tyler Chapter of the American Red Cross, among many others.

In 2017, the first new building constructed at Texas College in 50 years was co-named for Hartley.

He was a trustee and executive committee member of the college for 30 years.

Gilmore-Hartley Hall was named for Hartley and Bishop Marshall Gilmore for their years of service, and the instrumental role the two played in keeping the college open when it struggled to remain accredited in the 1990s.

Texas College President Dwight J. Fennell said Hartley was a dear friend to the college and will be sorely missed.

"His contributions to the college were impactful during a time of need, (resulting in) epic growth to the institution and an unselfish benefit to others," Fennell said. "Texas College will forever be grateful to the Hartley family for their support of Texas College and contributions to higher education."

His dedication to education also included serving as a trustee for All Saints Episcopal School and East Texas Baptist College in Marshall and as a member of the development council of the Tyler Junior College Foundation.

Hartley also served several faith-based organizations in East Texas. He was a member of and served on the administrative board of Marvin United Methodist Church. He also served on the board of the Baptist Foundation of Texas and as a committee member for First Baptist Church.

Twitter: @TMT_Cory


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Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on The Murder Tapes, Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.