G. Morris Dorrance lived a long and useful life, and deserved the attention he has received, including a front-page Inquirer obituary, since his death Aug. 11 at age 88.
But it's a mixed legacy. As the paper noted, Dorrance was the nephew of Campbell's Soup's founder, a leading backer of Fox Chase Cancer Center and other good causes, and, especially, the founding boss of CoreStates Financial Corp., the biggest and last of the Philadelphia banks, combining Philadelphia National and First Pennsylvania into one big company designed to dominate mid-Atlantic finance and ensure Philadelphia remained a center of banking decisions and thousands of headquarters jobs and regional and charitable leadership as banks across the US consolidated.
But Dorrance's legacy also includes the loss of that bank, due, as much as anything, to his surprising decision to bypass a generation of canny and brainy lenders and investors, some with fancy degrees and blue-chip client rosters, some with deep foreign-banking and military leadership experience, to name outsider Terrence Larsen, a 40-year-old economist, as Dorrance's successor in 1988.
Larsen was a dedicated golfer, and a rare hand at growing peppers for the Philadelphia Flower Show, and an afficionado of Hawaii's beaches. But he lacked the skills or will to defy short-term Wall Street criticism in pursuit of a long-term strategy, and to retain, not just the many bright people who left on his watch, but also CoreStates' designated merger partners, notably Maryland National Corp., which owned what became the biggest credit card and home loan businesses in the nation.