William Griffin Morrel Jr., banker who established Maryland National Bank's international operations, dies

William Griffin Morrel Jr., a banker who established the old Maryland National Bank’s international operations, a division that grew to a more than $2 billion enterprise with major business centers abroad, died of pneumonia on Wednesday surrounded by family at Blakehurst, a retirement community in Towson.

The longtime Roland Park resident, known as “Grif,” was 84.

Born in Lynchburg, Va., Mr. Morrel was the son of William Griffin Morrel, a telephone company executive, and Virginia Louise Baldwin Morrel, a homemaker.

He graduated from the Gilman School in 1951 and went on to earn degrees from Yale University and the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University. In 1956, he was drafted into the Army and was trained as an infantry rifleman and in cryptography. He was posted in the 7th Army headquarters in Germany in support of Cold War operations, and while stationed overseas cultivated a talent for charcoal drawings and a love for producing artwork that he reprised during his last years of life.

In 1958, he returned to the U.S. and a job at Fidelity-Baltimore National Bank, which became the Maryland National Bank. There, he devised a numbering system that led to the bank’s automation. Mr. Morrel was assigned to plan, organize, staff and manage a new international lending department. Over 20 years, he would help grow the division to 200 employees and multiple overseas and domestic offices, contributing a third of the bank’s income. He went on to become a senior vice president and a member of the bank’s management and asset and liability committees.

Alan Hoblitzell, of Vero Beach, Fla., former chairman and chief executive of MNC, parent of the Maryland National Bank, worked closely with Mr. Morrel for a quarter-century. He credited Mr. Morrel with developing key partnerships with banks in Asia, Europe and South America at a time when city and state leaders were working to increase the amount of international trade from the Baltimore port.

Mr. Hoblitzell said his longtime associate was an intellectual who was dedicated to his profession and enjoyed learning about international economies and the history of the countries with which the bank did business.

“He developed strong and warm relationships with the bankers in the institutions we visited, and he was fun to work with,” Mr. Hoblitzell said.

Mr. Morrel married his wife of 59 years on Jan. 31, 1959, after dating the former Sandra Coats for just six months.

Mrs. Morrel said she and her husband decided they would get married on their second date.

“To me, what stood out about him was what a really smart person he was,” she said. “I thought of him as a real Renaissance man. I fell in love with his brain. He was a sensitive, smart guy.”

The couple lived on Beechdale Road for about 50 years. In the 1970s, when the family had one car, a station wagon, Mr. Morrel would take the old No. 61 bus from Roland Park to the bank’s 1929 art deco skyscraper, now remade into the Ten Light Street apartments and a fitness studio.

Their son, Jere Coleman Morrel of Mount Washington, said his father was the patriarch of a strong family, establishing treasured traditions, such as their annual trip to Virginia Beach. Two dozen family members — including Mr. Morrel’s 12 grandchildren — gather for the vacation.

“In addition to being such an accomplished business person, he leaves behind the legacy of his four children and all of their children, who are still so close,” Jere Morrel said.

Mr. Morrel and his wife also brought their children and grandchildren on their frequent trips to London. Their favorite spot was the Savoy Hotel for its ambiance and location near the River Thames. Between work and business trips, Mr. Morrel is estimated to have visited the United Kingdom’s capital city more than 100 times.

He was a founding director and chairman of London Interstate Bank, a $1 billion consortium bank headquartered in England. He later served as senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Abu Dhabi International Bank and president of Heritage International Bank in Bethesda. He also joined Madison Financial Group, a bank consulting practice in Towson. While at Madison, he worked with Lech Walesa’s Solidarity union to establish a new commercial bank in Poland in 1992.

Additionally, Mr. Morrel was a founder of the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs and senior banking studies fellow at the Center for International Banking Studies, an affiliate of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Bob Blue, a partner at Royston, Mueller, McLean & Reid in Towson, was Mr. Morrel’s lawyer and a family friend. The two got to know each other when they worked together on Mr. Morrel’s mother’s estate planning.

“He was a lifelong banker, but he had the mind of a lawyer,” Mr. Blue said. “He was very detail-oriented, very inquisitive, a brilliant man. Sometimes it was hard to figure out who was the lawyer and who was the client.

“He pushed everyone to be better, because he was so exacting.”

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 28 at Roland Park Presbyterian Church. Donations may be made in his memory to the Lewy Body Dementia Association.

In addition to his wife, his son and grandchildren, Mr. Morrel is survived by three other children: W. Griffin Morrel III of Cary, N.C., John Coats Morrel of Roland Park and Elisabeth “Lisa” White Morrel of Towson.

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