WILLIS S. PAINE
IN the exacting, complicated, and responsible duties connected with the history and oversight of banking institutions in our state no man has gained a more exalted reputation or been more generally commended for his official acts than the subject of this sketch. His public services are well known, even beyond the limits of our own state, and his career is replete with interest to banking men and financiers.
Born in Rochester, N. Y., on the 1st of January, 1848, he spent his childhood in that beautiful city; growing up under the tender and watchful care of cultured and highly esteemed parents.
His ancestry is of the enterprising, solid and patriotic New England stock. Robert Treat Paine, one of the signers of the declaration of independence was a member of this old family. Willis S. is a son of Nicholas E. Paine, who was a distinguished lawyer of Rochester, and who on account of his forensic ability was elected district attorney of Monroe County, while yet a young man. In later life he held the offices of mayor and president of the board of education in Rochester. His mother’s maiden name was Abby M. Sprague, a descendant of the old governors, Bradford and Prince, famous in the colonial history of Massachusetts. In 1885 Nicholas E. Paine and his wife Abby celebrated their golden wedding in true New England style, surrounded by their children, relatives of the family and cherished friends.
Besides the subject of this sketch, they had a daughter, Mrs. Wallace Darrow, and a son, Dr. Oakman S. Paine, who has gained a wide celebrity as a skillful surgeon in New York City. In 1887, Mr. Nicholas E. Paine, full of years and rich in honors, departed this life, holding at the time of his death the presidency of the Dakota Railroad Company. His aged companion still lingers in the twilight of a serene and well-spent life. Robert Treat Paine, an uncle of the late bank superintendent was an able and accomplished lawyer, and for many years one of the shining lights of the Boston bar.
In the year 1862 young Willis S. Paine entered the Rochester Collegiate institute. With an ardent temperament, showing a genuine love for books, and a supreme desire to rise in the scale of learning, he became from the first a diligent student, believing with Lord Bacon that “the pleasure and delight of knowledge and learning far surpasseth all other in nature,” and impressed with the fine sentiment of Addison,” What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the human soul.”
When he graduated from Rochester Collegiate institute he was chosen valedictorian of his class. Intending to complete his collegiate course at Williams College, he entered the sophomore class in that excellent institution, but finding the winter too severe for his rather delicate constitution, he returned home, and immediately entered the sophomore class of the Rochester University, where he continued his studies, graduating with honor in the class of 1868.
Before leaving the halls of the university there was one subject which was particularly engaging his attention, to which his genius naturally inclined him, and which filled his youthful imagination with pleasing thoughts of the future. This was the study of the law; and so eager was he to speedily prepare himself for this profession that before receiving his college diploma he became a law student in the office of Sanford E. Church, afterward chief judge of the court of appeals. Under the instruction and advice of that profound lawyer, most estimable man and accomplished scholar, he was firmly grounded in the fundamentals of legal science. In 1868 his father removed to New York City, and our young law student was again fortunate in continuing his studies in the office of another eminent counselor and advocate, the late Charles A. Rapallo, also one of the judges of the court of appeals. In the spring of 1869 Mr. Paine was admitted to the bar, and for some time practiced his profession in the office of Judge Rapallo.
But another and very important field was soon to be opened to our young lawyer, into which he was well qualified to enter, and where he has won his highest laurels. In 1874, when the legislature passed a law authorizing the bank superintendent to cause annual examinations to be made of the trust companies of the state, Mr. Paine was appointed by the superintendent as one of the three examiners. It was a work in which from the first he took the deepest interest and showed the most careful, thorough and fruitful research. The examination resulted in the closing of three trust companies in the city of New York, which owed depositors six million dollars. These depositors were subsequently paid in full, and the public press praised Mr. Paine for the successful accomplishment of so grand a result. He also made the examinations of the same corporations the succeeding year.
In 1876, the doors of the Bond Street Savings bank, one of the largest institutions of the kind in this country, were closed by order of the court. This failure created no little excitement, especially among commercial circles in the city of New York and caused much pecuniary distress. Mr. Paine’s success as a lawyer and a bank examiner was such that on the recommendation of the attorney-general and the bank superintendent he was appointed by Judge Landon, at Schenectady, as receiver of the insolvent concern. After a thorough investigation of the transactions of this bank from the date of its organization and the successful issue of the suits brought against the trustees of the institution for losses incurred (for certain acts, while not made with wrongful intent, were unauthorized), Mr. Paine succeeded at the close of his receivership in 1873 in paying the general creditors 86f per cent, while the preferred creditors were paid in full. The amount paid him by the trustees in the settlement of those suits was one hundred and thirteen thousand five hundred dollars; while the whole sum received and disbursed in the winding up of the affairs of the bank, was nearly thirteen hundred thousand dollars – showing, we believe, the largest percentage ever paid in the history of any savings bank receiver in the country. Mr. Paine was a short time before the end of his receivership, the recipient of an engrossed series of complimentary resolutions signed by the members of a permanent committee. Most deservedly and gracefully did the court recognize the services of Mr. Paine in that long and tedious warfare, in which so many nice legal points were involved, by stating “that the duties of this trust have been administered by the receiver with rare diligence, fidelity and discretion.”
Having devoted so much time to the study of the banking laws – their excellences and their defects, and how they should be amended so as to be administered on a solid basis, Mr. Paine had but few equals and no superior in the state in a correct and comprehensive knowledge of the banking system and its proper workings. Accordingly, his services were sought after in the solving of other great questions involving banking operations, and when the legislature of 1880 passed an act for the appointment of commissioners ” to make a compilation and revision of the laws of the state affecting banks and banking,” Mr. Paine and William Dowd, president of the Bank of North America, were appointed by Gov. Cornell to perform this arduous work. The revision which they prepared was adopted by the legislature of 1882, and their valuable services, rendered without pecuniary compensation, were acknowledged in an appreciative resolution of thanks, adopted by the following legislature.
Gov. Cleveland, in April, 1883, nominated Mr. Paine as superintendent of the banking department of this state. The nomination was unanimously and immediately confirmed by the senate. In the discharge of .the duties pertaining to the office of superintendent of the banking department, Mr. Paine has displayed a zeal and an executive ability highly creditable in an official whose best endeavor is to serve the material interests of the state in his department, in the way of making ” crooked places straight ” and ” rough places plain ” His clear conception and comprehensive grasp of what should constitute the true practical workings of a correct system in the management of banks and other state moneyed institutions, and his skill and persistence in enforcing these rules and regulations, have caused his name to become a high authority through the country in his own special department.
As a writer Mr. Paine has contributed much useful information, tending to elucidate his favorite studies and investigations. His large work on ” Banks, Banking and Trust Companies,” the preparation of which was a difficult task, involving very arduous labor, is written in a masterly style – lucid in arrangement and thoroughly exhaustive of its subject – and is recognized as a production of standard value. A treatise on the law regulating building associations has recently been written by Mr. Paine, and has just been published in the city of New York.
Mr. Paine has also written largely for legal and financial magazines, and all his literary efforts bear the mark of a scholarly hand, seeking to strengthen and solidify the institutions under his charge, and thus favoring the welfare of business communities, by a just and uniform application of the banking laws now in force.
In April, 1883, President Cleveland offered Mr. Paine the position of sub-treasurer in the city of New York, which, on account of its close confinement, he was led to decline. In June, 1886, at its annual commencement, Manhattan College conferred upon him the degree of doctor of laws. He is a member of the bar associations of the city and state of New York, the Tuxedo, Commonwealth, Manhattan, Phi Beta Kappa clubs of the metropolis, the president of the Theta Delta Chi Graduate association.
On the 5th of April, 1888, Mr. Paine married Miss Ruby S. Tilden, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of the late Henry A. Tilden of New Lebanon Springs, and a niece of ex Gov. Samuel J. Tilden. The wedding was a brilliant affair. Mr. and Mrs. Paine now reside at the Windsor hotel, New York, where they have a large circle of appreciative and cultured friends.
During the fall of the year last past Mr. Paine resigned the bank superintendency, having held that office nearly twice as long as any one of his predecessors and accepted the position of president of a new banking corporation organized in the city of New York under the title of ” The State Trust Company.” This corporation began business with a capital of one million and a surplus of five hundred thousand dollars and it is almost needless to add has been exceedingly successful.
He is of a tall, slender, commanding, dignified personal appearance, with a smooth face, reflecting a clear and comprehensive intellect, a mind highly cultured and refined, evincing marks of deep thought, a genial, sympathetic spirit, and social qualities of a high order.