William Melton “Bill” Key was known for his successes in business and his service to Athens, the community he called home.
Key, who died on Jan. 11 at age 85 after a period of declining health, steered the First State Bank in Athens for almost two decades as president and chairman.
He was born in Dallas in 1935, then graduated from high school in San Angelo before moving on to Texas Tech University. After college, he and his wife Marian came to Athens in the late '50s.
In the 1960s, Key opened an auto dealership. He sold, Fords, Mercury’s and Ford trucks from his business at 216 W. Corsicana Street. The slogan for the business was “Your key to fine cars and service.”
Key’s association with First State Bank led to him becoming president in 1981. Current bank official Steve Moore remembered Key as presiding over the business in a time of expansion. Between 1987 and 1994 new branches were added in Mabank and Malakoff and on East Tyler Street in Athens.
“He was good at watching over things but he gave his managers quite a bit of discretion,” Moore said in a written history of the bank.
With the new branches came new responsibilities for Key, which included hiring new employees and executives.
“One of Bill’s strengths as president was his ability to judge character. He brought in good people,” Moore said.
Key retired as president in 1999.
Key was also a cattle rancher and farmer. His community activities included membership and leadership roles in the Athens Rotary Club, Athens Independent School District Board, Trinity River Authority Board and East Texas Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board.
The TRA Board members serve six year terms and are appointed by the governor to address issues involving the river within its 15 county area.
Key accepted Christ at age 10, initiating a life of service in the church. He was a member of First Baptist in Athens, then later First Presbyterian.
His obituary describes him as someone who modeled himself after his Savior. He had a quick sense of humor and could turn a memorable phrase, but was also a good listener and decision maker. Key was described as a tireless worker and shrewd planner.
According to his family, “He was our rock, our leader, our hero.”