On the evening of Tuesday, March 15, in front of more than 100 colleagues, family members and friends, Jane Watkins, president/CEO of Virginia Credit Union, was honored on the eve of her retirement, scheduled for March 31, at the historic and majestic Scott House in Richmond, Va.

During Jane’s storied career of three and a half decades at VCU, she served 16 years as its president/CEO and took the credit union from $30 million in assets to more than $3 billion with an air of class and distinction that is without equal in our industry. From those who knew her best came numerous heartfelt testimonials in which she was described as a leader who is smart, persistent, precise, witty, energetic, caring and genuine. Her employees – many of whom have been with her for decades – used the terms honest, principled, compassionate, fun, authentic, empathetic and real. But it was her husband of more than 28 years who so eloquently described the determination of a woman who found the right balance between being a wife, mother and one who provided more than 34 years of unwavering support pursuing her passion to serve her members and community.

So why would I and so many others decide to drive long hours and fly in from faraway places to honor Jane? Stated succinctly, Jane personifies the best values and virtues of what being part of the credit union industry is all about. Since my introduction to the credit union industry more than 15 years ago, I have witnessed Jane time and time again meet with fellow credit union leaders and share ideas on how to best serve our respective members, gain efficiencies in our call center and branch operations, or lead in one’s local community. Jane believes, and has practiced through her actions, that by working together, both our firms can be strong, grow and better serve our respective members and communities. It is a lesson that I will never forget. Credit unions can work together side by side, grow and learn together, and provide world class value and service to our respective memberships while having fun in the process. Working together clearly separates credit unions from the banking industry and will sustain our many successes as an industry into the future.

In celebrating Jane’s leadership and service, it is worth noting that during her tenure as CEO, more than 60,000 participants – members and non-members from her community – attended financial training offered by VCU. Additionally, she has been a pillar of support in community youth development and community enrichment by providing food, security and affordable housing to those most in need. People helping people isn’t just a catchphrase to Jane, it is a way of life.

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