LAKE PLACID — Robert Leslie Olsen, former president of the Bank of Lake Placid (now NBT Bank), died Sunday, Oct. 10, after a long battle with chronic illness.
Robert was born Feb. 13, 1928, in Boston, Mass., to Iva (Brown) and Otto E. Olsen. When Robert’s father passed away, he and his mother returned to the family homestead in Bowdoinham, Maine. His mother married the Rev. Ernest M. Jones of Shelburne, Nova Scotia. (Rev. Jones and his wife are also formerly of Lake Placid.) Rev. Jones served several Baptist churches in Maine, including Kittery, where Robert graduated high school from Traip Academy in 1945.
Like most young men of his age, he enlisted in the armed forces and reported for duty as a Naval Aviation Cadet. At the end of World War II, Robert was discharged from the Navy and was recruited by the University of Maine to play football based on his successful high school record. After two years at the university, including ROTC service, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an aviation cadet and was stationed at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas. It was here that Robert achieved his much-desired goal of becoming a military pilot by learning how to fly the NA T-6. However, upon deciding the Air Force was not for him, Olsen returned to Portland to pursue his formal education and began his business career with Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance and Commercial Credit Corp. As the Korean Conflict escalated, his reserve unit was called back to active duty, and his unit was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
While in North Carolina, he took the entrance exams for the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Much to his astonishment, he passed the exams. However, instead of accepting an appointment to Annapolis, he chose not to pursue a full-time military career. Instead, he returned to Portland, married his fiancee Phyllis Hope Brow, a registered nurse, formerly of Cranston, R.I., on Nov. 28 1950. He returned to the employ of Commercial Credit in Burlington, Vt., where the couple made their first home. His experience with commercial credit brought him many promotions and transfers. It was during this time that the Olsens’ eldest daughter, Sally Phyllis, was born and the young family moved to Keene, N.H., where Robert had accepted a position with the Ashuelot-Citizens National Bank. One of the most personally satisfying and important jobs of his life was serving as a patrol officer with the Keene Police Department, working the night beat to supplement the family’s income. During this time, the Olsens’ second daughter, Cheryl Ann, was born.
In 1959, Robert was offered and accepted a position with the Tompkins County Trust Company in Ithaca. During his time in Ithaca, he furthered his formal education by earning a post-graduate degree from the Stonier School of Banking at Rutgers University.
In 1973, he accepted an offer from Charter New York Corporation. He served as president and CEO of three Charter NY Banks: Citizens Central of Arcade, the First National Bank of Hancock and the Bank of Lake Placid. The Olsens’ move to Lake Placid in 1982 introduced them to the world of Olympic sports firsthand. During his years at the Bank of Lake Placid, Robert greatly enjoyed supporting the bank’s sponsorship of the many athletes who came to train, the ski jumping competitions, and helping to turn the Olympic Village into a permanent training facility for the athletes.
In his life: “I have never wavered from the belief that education should never stop during one’s lifetime, regardless of one’s station in life.” Robert’s belief in the importance of learning lead him to continuously further his own education, and serve as an instructor and lecturer at numerous New York state universities and colleges, and also the New York State and American bankers’ associations. From his teenage years, Robert believed in and lived a life of service to others. From his first job as a wartime delivery boy for Frisbee’s Store in Kittery through his service as a volunteer driver for the Office of the Aging in Essex County, he has lived by that axiom. Robert’s extensive volunteer endeavors through the years are far too numerous to name here. A few of the many organizations he served include the Salvation Army, United Fund, YMCA and Rotary Club.
Through the example of his stepfather, commitment and service to his local church have been a constant purpose in his life. He served on multiple boards and committees at both the local and conference level. He took great satisfaction in becoming a certified lay speaker, serving Adirondack Community Church and others in the North Country.
Robert has been a Mason for all of his adult life, achieving the 32nd Degree. His involvement through the Masons, his interest in health care and his commitment to serving others led him to be a very active member of The Shrine. Since 1982, he has been a committed member of the Lake Placid Lodge and greatly enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie shared with his Lodge brothers. He loved being able to present local high school students with their scholarship awards each year.
Through all of Robert’s professional endeavors and community service, nothing was more important to him than his family. In all of the career choices he made, the benefits to the family were always foremost in his consideration. Above all, he was a family man. The Olsens were a family that did things together. From sharing dinner every night, long Sunday drives, annual vacations at Sebago Lake in Maine, supporting his daughters’ various activities, as well as his wife’s nursing career, the family mattered most. Robert received many accolades and honors in both his chosen profession and his service to his community, yet he remained a humble and modest man despite all the recognition. He valued the counsel and guidance of those who served as his teachers in life. At the close of his autobiography, he said “since graduating from Robert W. Traip Academy in Kittery, I’ve received support when needed, criticism when deserved and recognition when earned. I have indeed been a very fortunate man.”
The last couple of years, as his worsening illnesses made getting around more difficult, Robert would spend hours with other pilots and airport crew members at the Lake Placid Airport. The many hours he spent in the company of others who share his love of flying and aircraft gave him immense pleasure, which he cherished.
Mr. Olsen is survived by his wife Phyllis, of 60 years (as of Nov. 28); daughters Sally O. Evans of Ossining and Cheryl O. Mitchell (Dwight); grandchildren Emily, Melanie and Thomas Mitchell; and great-granddaughter Erynn Rose, all of Hooksett, N.H.
Calling hours will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22 at the Clark Funeral Home in Lake Placid. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 at Adirondack Community Church. A reception will immediately follow in Erdman Hall.
Expressions of sympathy may be sent to Phyllis B. Olsen, Vale Haven, 16 Wheeler Ave., Malone NY, 12953. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Scholarship Fund of the Masonic Lodge of Lake Placid (No. 834), P.O. Box 1369, Lake Placid, to the Salvation Army or the local community service of their choice.