rising to the top

Bridges’ path leads him from Walthall County farm boy to president of capital city bank

Bernard Bridges knew he wanted to go into banking the day his father took him to Tylertown Bank to open his first savings account.

“He told me if I had a little money, and I wanted to save it, I could put it in the bank,” he said. “That was my first experience with banking and it was a good one, and it was kind of where I wanted to go.”

Recently, Trustmark National Bank named Bridges market president of Jackson.

In his new role, Bridges will work to improve customer service and strengthen Trustmark’s reputation as a community partner.

Trustmark has 1,500 employees in the capital city, with 17 locations and offices downtown.

Bridges doesn’t take his new responsibilities lightly. “I want to be there for the customers of Jackson. If they have a problem, pick up the phone and call Bernard,” he said. “If there is something Trustmark can be doing better in our community, I’m out there searching for those answers.”

The Jackson resident comes to the position after 35 years in the banking industry. He was hired at Trustmark in 1985 to take part in the advanced training program.

Since then, he’s worked his way up from an assistant branch manager at the Jackson Mall location to a position that serves all of the capital city.

Not bad for a farm boy from Jayess, a small community outside of Tylertown.

Bridges was the 12th of 14 surviving children born to Emma Lee and Joe Van Bridges Sr.

“It was like two families … There was the older set and the younger set. The (older set) was all grown before I came around.

“My oldest brother was getting married when I was born. He was starting a family and I was just getting here,” Bridges said.

 

Top priorities for his family were education, chores and extra-curricular activities.

Bridges put eight of his children through college and would have put all of them through had they chosen higher education.

“My dad comes from a family of six kids and only one boy. He grew up with all sisters. The two older sisters went to college and he couldn’t because he had to farm,” Bridges said. “I don’t know if he felt slighted or not, but he felt it was very important for those who wanted to attend college to go.”

Bridge’s oldest aunt was his fourth-grade teacher. His great uncle attended Alcorn State University in the 1920s and later went on to become a school principal in Fayette, and another family member was a principal in Tupelo.

Bridges’ older sister, the late Gloria McGee, was the first of his siblings to go to college and received a teaching degree from Alcorn in the 1960s.

“She came back to be my seventh-grade teacher,” he said. “We had a test in her class. I made an 85 and she came home and showed it to my mother and father and said I could’ve done better.”

He learned what his sister had done after coming in from doing chores and playing basketball. “I couldn’t handle that because I was in seventh grade,” he said.

The next morning, Bridges went to the principal’s office and asked to be transferred to another room.

Bridges also found out a way to get out of afternoon chores, a move that would later prove instrumental in landing a career at Trustmark.

“If you came home after school there were chores to be done. But dad didn’t make you come home for chores if you wanted to play ball or had something positive going on,” he said.

“After I didn’t make the ninth-grade basketball team, I had to find some other way of not going home to do chores. I chose the DECA program, where if you wanted to work in one of the stores downtown, they would try to place you,” he recalled. “That’s how I started working at Piggly Wiggly.”

Bridges worked at the grocery store from ninth to 12th grade, avoiding numerous afternoons chopping or picking cotton, he said.

 

He graduated from Tylertown High School in 1975. After high school, he attended Mississippi Valley State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“I left Valley in 1979, and from there went directly on to graduate school. I wanted to work, but Jayess was not the place to try to look for a job,” he said.

Bridges moved to Jackson and landed a job at Sears, Roebuck and Co., and started graduate school at Jackson Sate University (JSU). At the time, he was living with one of his other sisters, Audrey Wiley.

He was hired at Trustmark in 1985, by the brother of the man who managed him at Piggly Wiggly.

Before leaving the store for college, Bridges was being considered for the Piggly Wiggly management training program.

 

The longtime banker shares his experience with students he mentors at Jim Hill High School.

Bridges is a member of the 100 Black Men of Jackson and uses his time at the school to encourage students to do the best they can in school, work and other aspects of their lives.

“Go and do the best job you can,” he said. “I truly believe if I hadn’t had the kind of relationship that I had with my boss … I wouldn’t have gotten the job at Trustmark.”

Since being hired, Bridges has seen first-hand changes in the banking industry, including the early introduction of ATMs.

He said it’s important for bankers to embrace new technologies to keep up with changing demands of customers.

“We have to open our minds to the fact that brick and mortar branches might not be as important as they used to be,” he said. “Customers want to move their money around without coming in and sitting down in front of a banker.”

He said technology apps especially are important to Trustmark’s growing base of millennial customers.

“They don’t necessarily have to come to a bank or want to go to a bank,” he said. “From a technology standpoint, we have to keep up with that if we want to stay viable and continue to grow.”

Bridges and his wife Sharon Bridges have three children, Christopher Bridges, Stanford Moore and Emily Moore, reside in Jackson. The couple attends College Hill Baptist Church.