Soon back to work at United Community Bank in Adairsville, Abernathy gladly returned to her duties as senior vice president overseeing the bank's daily operations.
When she began, President John F. Kennedy was in office, John Glenn graced the covers of both Time and Life magazines and her employer was the Bank of Adairsville. The bank is now United Community Bank, the building, the location, the staff and much of the clientele has changed over the years, but Abernathy has remained.
"Mary began her career with Bank of Adairsville March 2, 1962. She and other bankers worked in a little brick and marble building downtown on the square," said UCB Adairsville President Gary Floyd at Abernathy's anniversary ceremony. "She's seen many changes in the banking community and in Adairsville since she began. ... She has worn many, many hats in her tenure at United Community Bank.
"Mary Abernathy is the go-to person. She's the go-to person for a community and she's the go-to person for Gary Floyd."
In an opening address to those in attendance, Floyd recognized Abernathy for the commitment she has made not only to her place of employment but also to her community.
"Mary and her husband, Wayne, are active members of their church, the First Christian Church here in Adairsville. Mary gives her time to our schools, to the Lion's Club, to the Chamber of Commerce. She's dedicated herself to our community," Floyd said. "She has raised money for every event that's ever occurred. ... If there is a need that comes her way, Mary figures it out.
"It has been my great fortune to work with a lot of wonderful people in 34 years and I've spent 13 great years here in Adairsville. It has been my great pleasure and great fortune to work with Mary Abernathy. I'm a better person because of Mary Abernathy, we're a better bank because of Mary Abernathy and we're a better community because of Mary Abernathy."
The ceremony, held last Tuesday at UCB, was kept a secret from Abernathy until she arrived at work that morning when she was told to go home for the day, a hair appointment had been made for her by family and friends and reservations were made at Barnsley Gardens for lunch.
That evening at the celebration, Abernathy was presented with an original work by local artist Skip McNutt depicting the original Bank of Adairsville on Public Square and the current UCB building. Adairsville Mayor Evan King also was on hand to read a resolution honoring Abernathy's commitment.
"When I think of Mary Abernathy and I think of 50 years working in one organization, I can only think of one word and that's loyalty. Not only to this bank but to the community," King said.
Among the community members, friends, bank customers, family members and colleagues present Tuesday were representatives from other UCB branches and corporate headquarters in Blairsville.
"Her loyalty is incredible," said Bill Gilmer, president UCB North Georgia and Coastal Regions. "That's what we try to model is community banking and dealing with people you know and trust. As she stated in her comments, she's grown up with a lot of these people here tonight. She's seen their children and now their grandchildren and she's served all those generations. She's a very special lady, someone that is willing to do whatever it takes to serve her customers' needs.
"Fifty years with the same company is just not heard of today, it's truly not heard of. Companies don't last that long and people change and do other things."
At the celebration, Abernathy briefly addressed the crowd before speaking individually with those in attendance and thanking each for coming.
"Fifty years seems like a long time but thinking back on it, it's not a long time and I attribute that to the people I have worked with and the people I work with now, they're incredible. I couldn't think of a better place to work," Abernathy said.
In a later interview with The Daily Tribune News, Abernathy reflected on the changes she has seen over the past five decades.
"I started March 2, 1962. There were four employees. ... I guess if we had a title, we were tellers. We did everything but lend," Abernathy said. "Basically the tellers did everything, we didn't have customer service representatives at that time, we didn't have bookkeepers."
Although the bank has grown with the community, Abernathy has seen the largest changes come in the form of technology. What use to be done completely by hand is now aided by computers. The Bank of Adairsville made the transformation gradually over time adding technology acquiring their first computers in 1996, three years before the transition under UCB.
"Everything was manual, there were no computers," Abernathy recalled. "We recorded everything, our loan payments and our new loans in a ledger, just a journal. ... We posted everything manually on the loans, we added up our checks -- there's on-us checks, there's deposits and there's checks that are not on us, transit items -- we added those up on the adding machine and that's how we did our cash letters going out to our corresponding banks."
In addition to technological advances, Abernathy has witnessed the changes in regulatory practices first hand. She recalled when customers would call for a car loan in the amount of $100 or $1,000 and would be asked to come pick it up later that same day. A loan application when she began was confined to a single sheet of paper, now the process takes up a stack of paper.
With the changes in technology and regulatory practices, the community itself has changed. Adairsville has seen tremendous growth in the past 50 years and though it has become increasingly more difficult to know every customer by name, it is the relationships that make her job worthwhile.
"Being in a small community has been like working for family. It's like your family just increases," Abernathy said. "A lot of who was here the other night were customers when I began. Seeing them become parents and seeing their children grow as they continued to support the bank, you get to know them and then you get to know their families. It's great to me to be able to ask, 'How's your children doing?'
"The friendships that you maintain with those people through the years is something you don't forget. It's very rewarding."