West Virginia’s first Commerce Secretary, Tom Bulla, who was known for his common sense and empowering management style, died Wednesday in his Lewisburg home from Alzheimer’s complications. He was 75.
Bulla was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on May 3, 1939 to Winnie Cleveland Blake and Lawrence Marshall Bulla.
Tom Bulla was a well-known community leader and banker before moving to state government.
Bulla’s banking career began in 1962, serving banks throughout North Carolina and Virginia. He then moved to West Virginia in 1981, becoming president, CEO and director of Huntington Trust & Savings Bank. Bulla oversaw the merger of Huntington Trust and The First Huntington National Bank in 1985, where he served as vice president and director.
Next Bulla moved to Charleston to lead Charleston National Bank as president and CEO. He also served as director and senior vice president of Key Centurion Bancshares, Inc.
In 1993, Bulla again oversaw a bank merger between Charleston National and Bank One. He was president and CEO of Bank One in Charleston, as well as a director and senior vice president of the holding company, Bank One West Virginia.
A year later Bulla accepted positions as president, CEO and director of First National Bankshares Corporation and the First National Bank in Ronceverte.
Then-governor Joe Manchin asked Bulla to serve as the state’s first Secretary of Commerce in 2005.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my dear friend, and a truly remarkable West Virginian, Tom Bulla,” Manchin, now a U.S. senator representing West Virginia, wrote in an email. “When I first became governor, I looked for the best and brightest to serve the people of West Virginia, and Tom was my first choice. He was someone who the entire business community respected. Tom served the people with distinction and there is no doubt he will be missed dearly across the Mountain State. Gayle and I join all West Virginians in keeping Tom’s wife, Nancy, and his family in our thoughts and prayers as they mourn this tragic loss,” Manchin wrote.
Bulla was tasked with consolidating seven government agencies in his position.
“I’ve always seen Tom Bulla as a lone beacon of common sense in the squall of bureaucratic goofiness,” Eric Denemark said of serving with Bulla in state government.
Bulla headed for retirement two years later in 2007. He served as senior vice president for Fifth Third Bank in Charleston, and in 2008 was asked to accept a six-month organizational position as president of First Guaranty Bank’s northern district in Hammond, Louisiana.
West Virginia bankers elected Bulla to serve on the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of Pittsburgh, where he served as director, as well as chair of the audit, executive and human resources committees from 1997 to 2002. He was an active member of the American Bankers Association, as well the West Virginia Bankers Association, serving as director, legislative committee member and chairman.
Bulla attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and was a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University.
Bulla volunteered at various community organizations including the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, Tamarack Foundation and the United Way of West Virginia. He was also a member of a number of community organization boards including Lewisburg Building Commission board, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and West Virginia Capital Corporation.
A celebration of Bulla’s life will be held Saturday on the lawn of the family’s Lewisburg home at 11 a.m. His wish is for his ashes to be scattered off Johnny Mercer’s Pier in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.