Harold W. 'Hal' Pote, 60, civic leader and long-ball hitter in banking field

In many ways Hal Pote, 60, who died in a swimming accident off the coast of Turkey on June 26, was the typical South Jersey guy, happiest when sailing his boat in Barnegat Bay or rooting for the Phils.

But in many others, Mr. Pote, pride of Penns Grove and onetime chief executive officer of Fidelity Bank, was the consummate Philadelphia banker who "led the revolution from traditional banking to futuristic financial services," according to Rosemarie Greco, former president of CoreStates Bank and currently director of the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform.

"Hal changed the role of banks in the community," Gov. Rendell said on Friday, praising his "good friend" as "a man who drove politics as a vehicle for social change." Whether it was advancing loans to rebuild West Philadelphia after the MOVE bombing in 1985 or finding angels for the financially strapped Pennsylvania Ballet, "Hal Pote was a civic leader who stepped up to the plate and never waited to be asked," said Rendell. "Generations of Philadelphians are in his debt."

"He was a new breed of banker at the time the industry was changing," remembered Greco of the charismatic banking wunderkind who matured into a financial guru at JPMorgan Chase. After executive roles in financial institutions in Philadelphia and New York City, Mr. Pote returned to Philadelphia in 2006 to serve as CEO of the Jenkintown-based American Financial Realty Trust (AFRT).

Harold W. Pote was born in Penns Grove, N.J., in 1946 and received his bachelor's degree in economics from Princeton in 1968, and his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1972, the year he joined Fidelity Bank. In 1968, he wed Judy Constantine. Their marriage ended in divorce.

At Fidelity the civic-minded financier vaulted the corporate ladder two rungs at a time, beginning his tenure there in the management consulting unit. He was promoted to director of investor relations in 1974, vice president of corporate development in 1976, executive vice president in 1980, and head of planning in 1981. In 1984, at the age of 37, the suave manager, then praised by American Banker as the "savviest of strategists," was named Fidelity's chairman and CEO.

"At the time, when CEOs were not thinking about the arts, Hal stepped into the breach to aid cultural organizations," says Greco, who was at the time Fidelity's president and remembers Mr. Pote urging the bank to help the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pennsylvania Ballet. And academic institutions as well.

Because he fervently believed in Drexel University's educational mission to serve students who were the first generation of their family to attend college, the graduate of Princeton and Harvard became an active member of Drexel's board.

Within three years, with the stock market at a historic peak, Mr. Pote built Fidelity into a regional banking company, quadrupling its assets to nearly $12 billion. He initiated a merger between Fidelity and New Jersey's First Fidelity. But after the market crashed in 1987, the merger - finalized in early 1988 - came at a most inopportune time. When Mr. Pote saw the company would post huge fourth-quarter losses due to nonperforming loans, Mr. Pote resigned in 1989.

In 1989, he cofounded PFR, a private real estate group, which was later acquired by Prologis. When his nephew Gregory was born with spina bifida in 1987, Mr. Pote cofounded the Spina Bifida Foundation.

In 1993, Mr. Pote cofounded the Beacon Group, a Manhattan-based investment partnership later acquired by Chase Manhattan. He led Chase's Regional Banking Group and after that banking giant merged with a financial-services behemoth, he became chairman of Retail Financial Services for JPMorgan Chase.

During the 1990s, Mr. Pote began keeping company with Linda Johnson, now chief executive officer of the Free Library of Philadelphia, whom he married.

"Hal gave his heart and soul to Philadelphia," Johnson said Friday, remembering how even during his years in New York he always maintained a residence in Philadelphia and rooted for its sports teams. "Despite all the great jobs Hal had, his dream job was to be GM of the Phillies."

Though remembered by many friends, including AFRT colleague Lew Ranieri, as a gourmet and oenophile, Mr. Pote celebrated his 60th birthday last September on Long Beach Island with a picnic of "white foods" - mashed potatoes, scallops, potato chips - that were his favorites.

"Hal loved to be on the water," Ranieri said Friday.

He is survived by his wife; his mother, Lucille Bock Pote of Penns Grove; and brothers Frank Pote of Stafford, Va., and Corey Pote of New Castle, Del. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Spina Bifida Foundation via www.sbaa.org.

Contact staff writer Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.