Empathy and the Spirit of Giving

By Kate Young

The heroes of banking. They’re real, and they’re walking among us. And although we could define the word in various ways, we all know a hero when we see the real deal.

TowneBank in Suffolk, Virginia recognized a hero in Beth Prever, the bank’s former senior vice president of marketing and community relations. And when you hear her story, so will you. Prever is the winner of the ABA Foundation’s 2017 George Bailey Distinguished Service Award, and she’s someone every banker should know about.

When Prever joined Townebank in 2005, like many in her profession, she brought a commitment to service and a talent for making good things happen in her community. She wore many hats, and took on numerous fundraising and volunteer projects. She grew one of the TowneBank Foundation’s flagship fundraisers—the Fall Extravaganza—from 200 attendees and $80,000 in proceeds in 2004 to 2,500 guests and $415,000 in proceeds in 2016.

But she also listened—responding with immediacy to the specific needs of the bank’s neighbors.

When a rough cold snap hit southeastern Virginia in 2015, Prever doubled down on the bank’s usual efforts to help the homeless. Dubbing the effort “Project Glove,” she contacted local agencies that serve the homeless, then recruited bank employees to purchase and personally distribute 600 pairs of gloves.

When the locally-founded Roc Solid Foundation set out to build playsets for children living with cancer, Prever recruited hundreds of volunteers, helped at onsite builds, and encouraged the bank to become a sponsor.

She also responded to coworkers in need. When colleagues were sick or going through hard times, Prever was usually the one at the bank who organized meal trains, visited, and offered a friendly ear. More than that, though, she projected a generosity of spirit that was contagious. Volunteerism at the bank increased exponentially during her tenure.

The ask that would define a career.

Nine years ago, a local businessman approached the bank with the idea of putting on a fundraising walk at the Virginia Beach oceanfront to help fight Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis—ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His son had been diagnosed with the disease, and he was looking for volunteer support.

Prever was on it. After learning more about the need, she became the bank’s liaison and mobilized volunteers among bank employees, friends, and families. The event that year yielded 620 walkers and raised thousands of dollars for the cause. Sharon Byrd, TowneBank’s EVP and senior marketing officer, reported that “TowneBank had the largest contingent at the walk, and the Virginia Beach ALS Walk quickly sprinted to become the largest ALS walk in the country.”

In the years that followed, Prever would bring together more than 2,000 participants from Townebank, raising nearly $400,000 in individual donations in support of the ALS walk.

And then, the unthinkable.

Along with her passion for volunteering, Prever won local acclaim for her physical toughness. In March 2015, The Daily Press reported on her participation on a four-person relay team in the One City Marathon—after hip replacement surgery and substantial weight loss.

Soon afterward, however, she began to struggle with her health, experiencing weakness, then a slight slurring of speech. “It didn’t slow her down,” Byrd observed. “She was still volunteering, organizing the bank’s United Way Day of Caring, and overseeing the bank’s largest fundraising events for the TowneBank Foundation.”

The ultimate diagnosis came as a shock: After years of tirelessly raising money to help those with ALS, Prever was told that she had the disease. In an interview with People Magazine, Prever said, “It was horrific news to hear…I cried for days. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that were running wild in my head.”

Still, though, later that year, Prever was there for the Virginia Beach ALS Walk—this time, as a participant rather than as a coordinator. She also continued to work in her role at Townebank, through the first quarter of 2017.

And then there was her bucket list: visiting the British Isles, France, and Yellowstone with her son; whitewater rafting; a tattoo; and skydiving.


The legacy.

Prever passed away in August 2017. In interview before she died, she said, “When I’m gone, I want to be remembered as someone who loved and served others, and who inspired people to take action. I hope that my story will inspire them. That will be my legacy… that I lived a life of service.”

In October 2017, she was posthumously awarded the George Bailey Distinguished Service Award at the ABA Annual Convention. “We were saddened to hear of Beth’s passing” said Rob Nichols, ABA president and CEO. “She represented the very best of our industry. Her relentless effort to improve the lives of those around her will not be forgotten. This award is one way to ensure we remember her remarkable spirit.”


Kate Young is the content editor of ABABankMarketing.com. Email: [email protected]

The entry period for the 2018 ABA Foundation Community Commitment Awards—including the George Bailey Distinguished Service Award—is open through June 29. Enter now.