Mt. Washington’s top navigator is taking his leave

Jack ForbushJack Forbush

Jack Forbush has a knack for making himself essential without ever being the center of attention.

For the last 26 years, he has been Mt. Washington Bank’s quiet, amiable ambassador of goodwill as it has made good on an impressive expansion across the city’s neighborhoods from its original base in South Boston. Wherever Mt. Washington does business in this town, you are bound to hear stories about Jack Forbush and his uncanny talent for helping people and institutions connect with the bank and its staff.

Next month, the 66-year-old banker will take his leave, embarking on a well-earned retirement journey that he and Sue, his wife of 40 years, will kick off with a trip to the Cayman Islands. Jack won’t permit a big party in his honor – and it’ll be tough to pull off a surprise on one of the city’s most wired individuals. But, before he departs, Jack is going to get a victory tour that will be the community banking equivalent of Mariano Rivera’s last loop through the American League.

“As news of Jack retiring has spread around, I’ve gotten more calls from people saying, ‘You know, he’s just a really good human being,” says Edward Merritt, the president and CEO of Mt. Washington Bank, which is a division of East Boston Savings Bank. “Whenever we’ve looked at moving into a new market, Jack would be the first one we’d turn to. He’d establish the contacts and say there are the people and the issues we need to focus on.”

Forbush started his banking career as a teller with the now-defunct Provident Institution for Savings before becoming a branch manager at Malden Savings. In 1988, he launched his career with Mt. Washington — a bank founded in 1893 as a cooperative by South Boston residents hoping to pool money for first-time homebuyers. It was a homecoming of sorts for Forbush, who was raised and schooled in Southie.

“Joe Moakley hit the nail on the head when he said he was born, baptized, and enrolled in the Democratic party all in the same day,” Forbush recalls. “There was a shared sense of we’re all in this together. And if someone needed something, people would arrange a ‘time’ – and it was a good and necessary thing.”

Forbush has brought that ethic – and his decades of hands-on banking experience – to his role at Mt. Washington. Mainly, his job has consisted of representing the bank across its various constituencies. He’s charged with identifying ways that the bank and its leadership team can best invest its time and energy in the various neighborhoods where it does business, including at two branches in Dorchester: Gallivan Boulevard in Adams Corner and Talbot Avenue in Codman Square.

“When I go in to talk to elected officials, or non-profits, or schools, I ask them for their ‘Big Three.’ The three events, issues or the big three people I should talk to,” says Forbush. “It’s never one size fits all. You have to listen more than talk and try to understand what the community values. Then it’s time to zip the mouth and open the ears.”

Forbush’s humility is one of his finest characteristics, notes Doreen Treacy, a Dorchester resident who now serves as executive director of the Massachusetts Community & Banking Council. Before that, she worked closely with Forbush and Mt. Washington’s Codman Square branch on a project to help low-income residents take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“One of the things I really appreciated about Jack is that –in early days back in 2003 – he was interested in understanding what it was and how the bank could do more than just write a check. They got very involved in showing up and getting volunteers. I really appreciated that about him as a bank officer. He was very involved in it personally.
“And, Jack never had that cocky banker attitude. He was always behind the scenes making things work,” says Treacy.

Sgt. Tim Torigian, the Area B-3 police community service officer, got to know Forbush well because the bank sponsors the police district’s annual Senior Ball. “It was Jack who approached us and said, ‘What can we do to be helpful?’ They ended up paying for us to do the whole event. He’s just a great guy and he’s going to be missed.”

Forbush has championed community events that some other banks and businesses missed, in part because of his patented “Big Three” approach – but also because he and Ed Merritt are “up for the adventure.” When one of Dorchester’s Main Streets districts sponsored a “Dancing with the Stars” contest to raise funds, Forbush convinced his boss that he could earn good will by making a guest appearance. Merritt – after some 40 hours of training – won the competition.

More recently, Forbush discovered a neighborhood street hockey tourney in West Roxbury and persuaded Merritt and the bank, which opened a branch there in 2011, to become a key sponsor. Merritt says, “It’s called the Shamrock Shootout and there are something like 600-700 people there every year. Jack said, ‘Do me a favor, just come out and walk down the street.’ We’ve been sponsoring this event now for three years. Now, there are 12 other banks in West Roxbury and none of them had ever sponsored this. That opportunity presented itself because of Jack’s doing, because at its infancy we were out there and made the right contacts because of Jack. It goes back to our core value of being involved and being philanthropic.”

One of Forbush’s legacies will be the scholarship program funded by the Mt. Washington Charitable Foundation, which he has overseen for the last 20 years. It’s one of several initiatives that Merritt and his team will now take on themselves, since there’s no way they will ever be able to replace Jack’s capacity to charm, scout, and navigate the diverse neighborhoods of his native town.

“I think we’ve proven ourselves to be a good corporate citizen,” says Merritt. “And it all started with Jack.”