At the NCUA, which Callahan chaired from 1981-1985, he led the agency during a severe recession and successfully revamped the way the NCUSIF was funded and how credit unions were chartered.
"He was prescient and understood human nature as if he had been a psychology major,'' recalled Bucky Sebastian, who was a top aide to Callahan at the NCUA and at the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions and is now president/CEO of GTE Federal Credit Union in Tampa, Fla. "He understood instinctively what credit unions needed and worked to ensure that the agencies enacted policies that achieved that.''
Before Callahan joined the NCUA, the NCUSIF was financed exclusively by premiums, but Callahan and his staff at the NCUA determined that that arrangement didn't allow the fund to keep up with the growth of credit unions. So he pushed for changes that included requiring each credit union to deposit 1% of its assets in the fund.
Callahan also pushed for changes in the field of membership rules so credit unions could serve multiple groups within a common bond.
During his tenure, the NCUA revamped its examination process so federal credit unions would be examined at least once a year, and he also restructured the agency so there were more employees in field offices and fewer employees in the headquarters.
After leaving the NCUA, he founded Callahan and Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based credit union consulting firm. He later became president/CEO of Patelco Credit Union in San Francisco. While he was at Patelco, the credit union converted to private insurance, but since he left, the credit union returned to federal insurance.
"Ed Callahan was a modern-day pioneer in the credit union movement,'' said NCUA Chairman Michael E. Fryzel, who like Callahan also ran the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions. "There is not a single aspect of day-to-day NCUA or credit union operations that does not bear his mark.''
Callahan came to the credit union movement during the second part of his professional life. The Youngstown, Ohio, native began his career as a high school math teacher and coach. He was running the school system for the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, Ill., when a friend recommended him to be deputy secretary of state to replace someone who had been accused of taking bribes.
Callahan, who at that time was a Democrat, so impressed the state's political leadership that the state's Republican governor, James Thompson, named him to run the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions, even though his sole experience in financial services had been serving as a director of a bank in Rockford.
In that job, he expanded the insurance options available to state-chartered credit unions.
Callahan, who switched parties after he was appointed by Thompson, was named NCUA chairman by President Reagan in 1981.
According to Chip Filson, a top aide to Callahan at the NCUA and now president of Callahan and Associates, Callahan's fondness for credit unions started when he graduated from Marquette University and needed money to pay for a security deposit on his new apartment. He explained the situation to his future boss, who directed him to a local credit union that gave him a loan.
Callahan was inducted in the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2000 and won the Herb Wagner award presented by the National Credit Union Foundation in 2003.
He is survived by his wife, Linda, and six children. Two other children predeceased him.
David Morrison contributed to this article.