Walt Moeling, known as the godfather of community banking law in the South, died Monday after a 50-year career serving as a trusted and straight-talking adviser to small-town banks in Georgia and beyond. He was 76.
Moeling worked for the same law firm his whole career, even though it has changed names a few times.
After earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Duke University, he joined Atlanta’s Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy in 1968. The firm was acquired a decade ago by Bryan Cave (now Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner), where Moeling headed the financial institutions practice. He retired in 2017.
“We are saddened to report that our longtime friend and retired partner, Walt Moeling, passed away peacefully on Monday night,” Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner said in an announcement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our Atlanta colleagues, in particular, who know just how important Walt was to the firm and every person whose path he crossed. He was an incredible mentor to many, especially Jim McAlpin, Kathryn Knudson, and our entire banking team,” the firm added.
McAlpin, the former chairman of Powell Goldstein, co-leads Bryan Cave’s banking practice.
Moeling had a knack for long and loyal relationships. He met his wife, Nell, in middle school and took her on a date to the school’s Halloween carnival, which led to a 53-year marriage, according to an obituary from the family.
After gravitating toward banking law at Powell Goldstein, he landed his first community bank client, People’s Bank in Perry, Georgia, during the early 1970s, and the bank remained a client for his entire career. Moeling also served as the general counsel of the Georgia Bankers Association for many years.
Moeling told the Daily Report in a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award profile, republished below, that he gravitated toward working with small-town banks from growing up in Alexander City, Alabama, population 13,000.
“These are people I understand. If you go to small towns, you find people every bit as smart as you are—and who frequently travel more and better—who like living there,” Moeling said. “There is not a better client base in the world. They’re good people—overwhemingly honest and well-meaning. They are a pleasure to represent.”
Moeling was known for his good humor, sharp wit and knack for storytelling, which he used to communicate important truths about banking, business and life.
“Walt Moeling always has a story—nearly always with a point or moral for the listener to let sink in,” said a 2017 profile in Banking Exchange Magazine, which recounted one the lawyer told about a bank CEO who discouraged him from talking about mergers and acquisitions at a strategy meeting for fear of upsetting his board. Moeling pressed ahead and discovered the board members had already been talking plenty. “There’s nobody involved in banking who is not interested in mergers,” Moeling observed.
Moeling was an active participant in his community. He is a former president and director of the Frazer Center and served as a director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center Inc.
Moeling’s family will hold a visitation from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, followed by a memorial service and reception at H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel, 4550 Peachtree Road N.E.
Memorials in Moeling’s honor may be made to the Frazer Center or to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.
Below is the Lifetime Achievement profile of Moeling that the Daily Report published in 2016.
Walt Moeling, the go-to lawyer for Georgia community banks for almost 50 years, says he gravitated toward working with small-town banks from growing up in Alexander City, Alabama, population 13,000.
“These are people I understand. If you go to small towns, you find people every bit as smart as you are—and who frequently travel more and better—who like living there,” he says.
His 10-lawyer group at Bryan Cave advises banks nationwide on big events like mergers and regulatory challenges.
Moeling once met with bank boards in Norway, Michigan, and Fort Myers, Florida—at the most northern and southern points of U.S. 41—in the same week. “They couldn’t have been more different, but the issues are the same,” he says, “How can we make money, serve the community, survive regulations and structure ourselves for the future?”
Unlike big banks, his clients “really don’t want three lawyers working on the project or a 20-page memo complete with footnotes,” he says. “What they want is an answer, so you have to know the business.”
“You’ve got to be a real adviser to them,” he says. “That’s how you build a relationship. I give them the bad news and the good news.”
Moeling, 73, had to give banks a lot of bad news after the 2008 financial crisis until about 2013—the toughest time he’s seen for banks. “Clearly there were some banks that had horribly overreached,” he says. “Some really good people got hurt badly. A lot of them were determined to see it out and fought their way through.”
Long-standing relationships define Moeling’s career. He joined Powell Goldstein in 1968 after law school at Duke University and stayed after Bryan Cave acquired the firm in 2009. He’s worked with his partners Katherine Knudson and Jim McAlpin more than 30 years.
Moeling gravitated toward banking law after working on matters for Citizens & Southern National Bank in Atlanta. He landed his first community bank client, People’s Bank in Perry, during the early 1970s, which is still a client.
“There is not a better client base in the world,” he says, so he built a practice around them. “They’re good people—overwhelmingly honest and well-meaning. They are a pleasure to represent.”
These days, Moeling spends a lot of time mentoring younger lawyers in his group. “As long as they have questions and like to come visit and ask my advice on things, I’ll be there.”