Miami banker who gave away $60 million gets front-row seat to Obama speech

Miami HeraldFebruary 24, 2009 

Leonard Abess Jr., the Miami banker who quietly gave $60 million of his own money to his loyal staff of 399 current and 72 former workers, plans this evening to be watching President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress from first lady Michelle Obama's box.

Geneva Lawson, a 51-year employee at City National Bank of Florida, will also join the first lady for the speech. Lawson, the safe-deposit custodian at the Miami Beach branch, is among the 471 staffers and former staffers who were stunned by their boss' largess.

Abess, 60, gave the hefty bonus last November after selling a majority stake in City National Bancshares and made no effort to attract public attention to his generosity. His story became public this month after he mentioned it offhandedly in an interview with The Miami Herald.

''Those people who joined me and stayed with me at the bank with no promise of equity -- I always thought some day I'm going to surprise them,'' he said. ``I sure as heck don't need [the money].''

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