"The Friend of the Family,” Washington Mutual Bank called itself back in the day. Then it dumped that cozy slogan for the vapid “Whoo Hoo, WaMu,” went chasing after big money in dodgy mortgages, and wound up belly-up, seized by the feds, and gifted to JPMorgan Chase. But for the self-described Wamoolians who worked there, the filial feeling never went away. And for longtimers, the patriarch remains forever Lou Pepper, the CEO who built the bank up into a regional powerhouse in the 1980s, then anguished from the sidelines as it ballooned and busted.
When we reached him, Pepper was wintering, Seattle rainbird-style, in Palm Springs. But he still views his former colleagues as family. So last fall, when things fell apart, he and another former exec started a scholarship fund to help displaced WaMu employees, who stood to lose not only their jobs but all the savings, retirement funds, and stock options tied up in now-worthless WaMu shares, send their kids to college or go back and retrain themselves.
Better still, on January 6, a week after their pink slips fell, the ex-bankers held a WaMu Last Hurrah Party, more raucous than tearful, at the Triple Door. To raise scholarship funds they auctioned off old company trophies, artwork, a full set of WaMu stock certificate specimens, a life-size cutout of the Rodeo Grandmas who once fronted for the bank, and other office booty. (Even an autographed bobblehead of Pepper’s ill-starred successor Kerry Killinger fetched $175.)
The Nowhere Men, a Beatles tribute band led by an ex-Wamoolian, provided an eerily fitting soundtrack, charting the stages of corporate death and personal resurrection in the new economy: “If I Fell,” “I Should Have Known Better (Than to Hold That Stock),” “Help,” “A Little Help From My Friends,” “Here Comes the Sun.”
“Treat me like you did the year before,” pled the McCartney sing-alike. On “Taxman” (“Here’s One for You, 19 for Me”), the Wamoolians formed a conga line and cantered through the aisles.