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Like many of you, I'm reeling over the passing of Melanie Dressel, longtime President and CEO of Columbia. Words cannot express what I'm feeling. And yet, she was such a tremendous and accomplished leader that I can't help but share my own thoughts about my dear friend Melanie.

When I think of Melanie, the first thing I think of is how gracious she was, even under the most challenging of circumstances. Yes, she was a determined leader – a visionary with a desire to grow her bank while maintaining the dedication to the bank's clients. She was also one of the smartest bankers I've had the privilege of knowing. But it was her natural warmth that separated her from so many others. She knew how to make others feel like the most important person in the room, whether she was talking with you about the strategic challenges of the industry or sharing stories about her grandchildren.

I still remember like it was yesterday the day when Melanie became President of the Bank, even though that was some 17 years ago now. Bill Weyerhaeuser was Chairman at the time (as he remains, now), and she was entrusted with the future of a small Tacoma bank, then under $500 million. Under Melanie's leadership and guidance, it now approaches $12 billion.

Melanie possessed the perfect combination of business acumen and personality to help Columbia prosper, both through internal growth and through strategic acquisitions. I have always said deals are people and Melanie proved that in spades. Her combination of smarts, warmth, and personality opened the door to many deals. People just liked working with and for Melanie. To put things into perspective, this probably says it best about Melanie. In banking circles all you had to say was “Melanie” and everyone knew who you were talking about, just like Michael in basketball.

I would like to think that her legacy transcends building a $12 billion bank, though. I believe it is represented by the culture she developed and the pride of working for a strong local company entrenched in the communities it serves. Her success should be measured not just in economic achievements, but also the passion inside the organization she helped build and guide.

There will always be a warm place in my heart for Melanie and the time I was fortunate enough to share with her. We both sort of grew up as professionals together. The soft-spoken Eastern Washington girl and the tough-talking New York boy. I will miss our many lunches together at Salty’s at Redondo and Stanley & Seafort’s. I lost a dear friend. She was one of a kind.