H. Gavin Leedy, who served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City from August 1941 to January 1961, was appointed to the position six months after the retirement of his predecessor, George H. Hamilton. Up to that point, it was the longest period any Reserve Bank went without a president.
Leedy was born in 1892, in the small southern Missouri town of Benton. He was a child when his family moved north to Cameron, Missouri, in hopes of improving his mother’s health.
After graduating from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, Leedy came to Kansas City in 1916 and attended law school while he worked for banking law attorney James Goodrich. His education, however, was interrupted by war. A member of the first graduating class at the Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1917, Leedy served in France where he was injured during an artillery attack. When he returned to the United States in October 1918, he was among a group of military officers lauded as heroes.
After returning to Kansas City, he graduated from the Kansas City Law School and began to work for Goodrich while also teaching night classes at the school where, among his students, was future President Harry Truman. When Goodrich dissolved the firm, Leedy started his own practice, which was active in banking law during the Great Depression.
“Leedy was a lawyer-doctor, constantly being called to the bedside of sick banks,” according to a biographical sketch written in 1952 for a book titled Leaders in Our Town. “Throughout this part of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma he worked on reorganizations, mergers and liquidations. This was not only legal work, but a wide exploration into the fundamentals of banking. He learned the causes of health and illness as a young doctor learns from a clinic and post mortem operations.” 1
Leedy joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City as vice president, general counsel, and secretary to the Bank’s board of directors in February 1938. The Bank’s board appointed him first vice president at the time of Hamilton’s retirement and six months later was named president. During his time as president, the Bank entered the computer age, becoming one of the first Reserve Banks to install and use a mainframe computer in the late 1950s. Leedy also oversaw the remodeling of the Bank’s Omaha and Oklahoma City Branches and began the process of planning a new Denver Branch office.
Bank employees under Leedy recalled that the institution felt more like a family during his tenure. It was a growing family, going from 600 employees at the start of his tenure to more than 1,200 at the time of his retirement in 1961.
Leedy was also active in a number of community and charitable organizations in the Kansas City area. He served as a director of St. Luke’s Hospital and the Starlight Theater and served on the boards of the American Royal, the Kansas City Philharmonic Association, and the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design.
Leedy died at age ninety-six in 1989.
Fowler, Dick. Leaders in Our Town. 1952.
Written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. See disclaimer.