SAA Remembers Brenda S. Banks

July 29, 2016--Brenda's funeral services will be held on Tuesday, August 2, at 11:00 am at Murray Brothers Funeral Home, 1199 Utoy Springs Road, SW, Atlanta, Georgia. Interment at Lincoln Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia. Her family plans to invite family and friends to repast following the funeral, at a time and location to be announced. For more information:


The archives profession lost an incomparable, valued colleague on July 25 with the passing of Brenda Banks in Atlanta, Georgia. Brenda’s contributions to the profession were significant and far ranging: archival education, diversity in the profession, archival management, and preservation among them. But it was her ability to build consensus, her unending professional generosity, and her engaging sense of humor that colleagues will miss most.  

Brenda was a graduate of Spelman College, where she received a BA in History, and she earned a master’s in Library and Information Science with a concentration in archival management from Atlanta University. From that time on Brenda devoted herself to mastering and shaping the archives profession.

She spent much of her career with the Georgia Department of Archives and History, beginning in 1972 as an assistant archivist—the only African-American professional on staff at that time. She held progressively responsible positions there, ultimately becoming Deputy Director of the Georgia Archives, where she was responsible for administering the archives program and served as project manager for the construction of a new 172,000-square-foot state-of-the-art archives facility. After retiring from the Georgia Archives, she established Banks Archives Consultants. Recent projects included working with a range of African-American collections and with architecture firms to develop design elements for archives and other cultural institutions. 

Brenda made significant contributions to the archives profession, focusing in particular on archival education. She served as the 51st President of the Society of American Archivists (1995-1996), chaired the SAA Diversity Task Force, and brought her keen insights and hard work to a range of committees. From 1999 to 2005 Brenda administered and coordinated a nationwide archives education and training program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and as Board chair had a major role in guiding the Georgia Archives Institute, which this year receives SAA’s Distinguished Service Award. As an educator she was responsible for furthering the careers of hundreds of young professionals, many of whom looked to her as a mentor throughout their careers.

Brenda served as president of the Society of Georgia Archivists and on the boards of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators and the International Council on Archives. Because of her substantive expertise, she was also appointed as a transition team leader for the Clinton Administration to conduct a management review of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Honors include: Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, Governor’s Award in the Humanities, Archives Advocacy Award (Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board), Individual Achievement Award in Archives and Records Management (Georgia Records Association), Society of American Archivists Council Exemplary Service Award, Fellow of the Society of Georgia Archivists, Distinguished Alumnae Award (National Association for Equal Education Opportunity), Alumnae Achievement Award (Spelman College), and Beta Phi Mu. She also was featured in Black Enterprise and Ebony magazines.

Above all, her countless friends will remember and mourn the passing of a spirited colleague who shared generously of her time and knowledge, who could stand her ground with passion but preferred to build consensus instead, and who exemplified the kindness, joy, and humanity that is found in the very best colleagues and friends.

— Prepared by David Carmicheal and Kathleen Roe

13 Comment(s) to the "SAA Remembers Brenda S. Banks" (not verified) says:

*Posted on behalf of Ann Pederson*


In 1972, my second year at the Georgia Department of Archives and History, I hired Brenda Banks as an archives assistant. She had volunteered for two summers as a student intern in our preservation lab. Working within the then Old South culture, Brenda’s intelligence, values and quiet determined competence set her apart as someone special. She called me AP; she became BB and our teamwork at the ‘’Chives began.

BB quickly weeded out the frauds, fools and mean-spirited at all levels. She gave of herself freely to those whom she felt deserved support or had “potential”. She taught us to focus on the positives in every situation and brought out the best in her adoptees. Brenda challenged us and watched our backs.

When we stuffed up BB didn’t scold; she drove us to Manuel’s or Harold’s for pitchers, hotdogs, wings, crackling cornbread and Brunswick stew.  No one knew the curative powers of good food and French champagne served with laughter better than Brenda. She inspired us all to “accept, learn and move forward.”  Bitterness and might-have-beens were not allowed. Her timely, steady encouragements underpinned and inspired all of us to larger achievements.

Throughout her 44 year career, BB amassed a dazzling array of skills, becoming the go-to person for grant funding, for managing large/complex projects and for schmoozing through difficult or sensitive situations. 

She didn’t complain, demand, bully or manipulate. She analyzed the situation and prepared her plan like a kung-fu master, converting frustration and fury into calm productivity. No one could resist her mix of intelligence, wisdom, humor, empathy, flattery, confidence and naughtiness. Before they could blink, adversaries capitulated and were working together within BB’s guiding framework. Her facilitation skills, timing and outcomes became legendary.

When BB took you on, it was for life through thick and thin. When I left the ‘Chives to move to Australia in 1981, Brenda kept in touch. I returned to the US every autumn to attend the SAA meeting and see my mother but, most of all to refresh my exposure to Essence de Banks- a mixture of theory, gossip, foolishness and hugs.  

Brenda engineered the SAA award for my book Keeping Archives and ensured I became an SAA Fellow. When I decided to stay in Australia as a citizen, it was Brenda who flew 14,000 miles to watch me take the pledge. BB claimed she came to attend the Australian Open Tennis Championship, but I knew she was checking I was happy and being well cared for in my new land.

Brenda’s all-time favourite activity was cosseting those she loved with amazing and extravagant generosity.  BB never just had a room at the conference hotel; she booked the best luxury suite and packed it with privileges and treats to share with her friends. 

Though a bountiful giver, she was a most reluctant and uncomfortable receiver. Almost pathologically private and stoic, BB concealed her own battles with dark times and health problems as long as possible. That was her rule and she called the shots. Fortunately for us all, friends and family stepped in to support her through those times and on her final journey.

Well, BB I think it’s time to wave you off on your new adventures. You are now free to be anywhere and everywhere and with everyone who loves you at any time.  Big hug and speak soon.  

Ann Pederson 

from Australia  

2 August 2016  

CBGallag44 says:
Brenda Banks

What a shock to hear about Brenda's death.  She always seemed so much younger than me.  I first met her in the 1980s as a student in a workshop on appraisal that she taught. I seem to remember that she was filling in for someone else, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn frolm her.  She had a great sense of humor, and wonderful hugs.  What a marvelous president she was as well. I remember her keynote at a NEA meeting in the 1990s on the future of the archives profession. She didn't miss a beat when I asked her to come even though she was very busy during this presidential year. She was a good friend and I will miss seeing her.

Connell B. Gallagher

jimerson says:
Brenda Banks

Brenda Banks epitomized the very best in public service on behalf of archives and the many people in society whose rights, historical memory, identity, and access to social justice find protection in archival documentation. She was a pioneer in so many respects, but one of the most important gifts she gave us was her commitment to mentoring, guiding, and teaching successive new generations of archivists and people who benefited from a legacy of archives. It has been a great honor and privilege for me to count her as an esteemed colleague and a personal friend.

Brenda helped me in numerous ways, always offering wise advice, encouragement, and sympathy when I needed each of these. As a founder and leader of the Georgia Archives Institute, she provided invaluable guidance and assistance during the two summers that I participated as an instructor. But there is one special experience with Brenda that I will always remember.

When I served as President of the Society of American Archivists in 2004-2005, I sought Brenda’s help in finding a keynote speaker for the August, 2005 annual meeting in New Orleans. We quickly agreed that New Orleans native Andrew Young, a leading civil rights activist who had served as Mayor of Atlanta and Ambassador to the United Nations, would be an ideal speaker. Always very busy with a wide range of commitments, Ambassador Young would be a difficult person to convince. But Brenda skillfully and persistently used her extensive connections to reach Ambassador Young. She simply wouldn’t accept no as an answer.

In New Orleans—less than two weeks before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina—Ambassador Young presented an inspiring and rousing keynote address to more than 1,000 SAA members and guests. Brenda was the natural choice to introduce him, and she spoke eloquently of Ambassador Young’s historical role in civil rights and community leadership.

At the close of this plenary session, as I completed my year as President of SAA, Brenda again came to me, as herself a distinguished former President of SAA. She gave me one of her famous hugs and a comforting word. “Welcome to the Geezer’s Club,” she said.

For her generous spirit, her commitment to archives and archivists, her leadership of younger archivists, and her abiding friendship, I will always remember Brenda Banks and her numerous contributions both to the archival profession and, more importantly, to all people everywhere.

Rand Jimerson

MyNameIs says:
flecknerj says:
Brenda Banks

I had the privilege of serving on SAA's Diversity Task Force in the late 1990s chaired by Brenda.  She was masterful in managing our two day retreat and in bringing the results of our work to fruition in a 1999 report that placed a foundation for the many years of our subsequent work toward this essential goal.  Brenda and I crossed paths at many SAA meetings over the years and I always looked forward to her warm smile and her undaunted spirit.  Brenda is gone far too soon but we are all grateful for how much she has given us individually and as a profession. 

Carmi747 says:
Personal memories of a great colleague

I had the great joy of having Brenda as my deputy director at the Georgia Archives from 2001 until her retirement in 2006. In more than 30 years I have never found an employee more perfectly suited to her job. Brenda told me often how much she loved being the person behind the scenes (a surprising confession from someone who spent so much time center stage!), the one who quietly moved obstacles and influenced people to achieve goals. She could very easily have used her position to further her own agenda—I was new to state archives and new as the director; she was already a legend in the profession with decades of experience at the Georgia Archives—but true to her character, she used her prodigious talents to help me clarify my own vision for the future, and then she used her equally prodigious connections to help me achieve much of it. Behind closed doors she could argue a point passionately—she never hesitated to tell me what she really thought!—but on those rare occasions when the decision didn’t go her way, she supported the decision publicly with equal passion.   

Brenda usually played Good Cop to my Bad Cop. She often threatened to be the Bad Cop, but she could never quite pull it off—her heart was too big. Instead, she played the role for Georgia Archives staff that she played for the entire archival profession: a mentor who inspired and consistently demonstrated what it means to be a true professional, always striving for excellence. Brenda never wanted to settle for second best. Even the food at an archives reception had to be presented beautifully, a fact that led her to say to me more than once, ‘Don’t you go hiring people who can’t put cookies on a plate!’

The most satisfying hours—and the most challenging—that Brenda and I spent together came as we planned and built the Georgia Archives building. For nearly three years we lived and breathed the new building together. From the start we found common cause in keeping the architect and contractor focused on archival functions rather than pretty facades, but over thousands of hours of meetings and discussions covering every detail of that complex building we disagreed about almost nothing (though we did disagree about whether we should climb the construction crane—I went, she stayed firmly on the ground). In the end we got a pretty façade after all (and a national design award from AIA), but we were both proudest of the fact that the building functioned beautifully as an archives.

One day during construction Brenda demonstrated the extent to which things had to be ‘just so.’ During a meeting in the construction trailer she began choking seriously enough that the project manager jumped to his feet. “I’ll get you some water!” He had reached the door to the trailer’s kitchen when Brenda rasped out, “Wait!” He stopped and we all stared at her until she was able to gasp out a question: “Is it bottled?”

Holding to her standards, even in crisis.

Like so many, I came to treasure Brenda deeply, and I will miss her more than I can say. Before she passed on, though, Brenda safeguarded much of her knowledge and wisdom by distributing them to others—a little at a time, one person at a time. We all benefited in some way, and her example is a great challenge to us all.   

David Carmicheal

eadkins57 says:
Fond Memories of Brenda Banks

David and Kathleen, thank you for preparing this wonderful tribute to Brenda.  You have done a great job of capturing her many fine qualities.  We will miss her fiercely.

I first met Brenda in the 1980s, when we both attended a week-long Preservation Management Institute that SAA offered.  It so happens I met many other up-and-coming leaders at that event, and I am ever so grateful that Brenda was one of them.  When she became co-chair of the Program Committee a number of years later, I had the honor of serving as a member of that committee.  That's when I got a sense of her leadership style.  She let everyone know that one of the primary considerations in being selected for the committee was a sense of humor, because there is nothing worse than sitting through a three-day meeting with people who take themselves too seriously.  We had fun in that meeting, and I'm willing to bet that we made it through the program selection process more quickly and efficiently than any previous recent Program Committee.

When she became SAA president, I wasn't yet involved with the Council, but once I became Treasurer I started to hear stories of what a positive influence she had been.  At the time the Council was going through a particularly contentious time - lots of conflicts and passionate disagreements.  As I understand it, she would hand a small plastic shovel to Council members who had held the floor a bit too long, as a reminder to get past the bull and get back to the point.  It helped increase the efficiency of meetings.  She also started holding poker games with Council members as a socialization mechanism.  This was a brilliant way to start to relax, have fun together, and break down personal barriers getting in the way of communication and collaboration. It worked!  By the time I joined the Council, there was a strong spirit of collegiality, even when working through tough issues.  And many people were giving Brenda the credit for that.  She had a real talent for bringing people together.

Her influence on SAA and the profession will be felt for many, many years to come. 

Elizabeth W. Adkins

Burckeln says:
Brenda Banks

Kathleen and David, Thanks to you and to SAA for initiating this way to allow those of us who knew Brenda to share our memories of a dear friend and colleague.  So much has already been written about Brenda that I had the opportunity to observe.  The ony unique addition I can contribute is from the perspective of the person who succeeded her as SAA President.  I had the good fortune as vice-president to work closely wih her and observe how she managed the myriad of issues that came to Council, all of which she handled with sensitivity, sound judgment, and an understanding of conflicting points of view.  Though younger than I, she was my mentor.  When she passed the shovel to me at the end of her term, I was grateful for how much she had done, but acutely aware of how high bar she had set for me and her successors. I remain in her debt.

Nick Burckel 

eadkins57 says:
Fond Memories of Brenda Banks

I stand corrected on one point.  I understand from a Council member who served under Brenda that Brenda did not actually hand the shovel to anyone who might be taking too much time on any one topic.  Instead, at the beginning of a meeting she would assign the shovel to a Council member whose job it was to wave the shovel when the conversation had gone on too long.  Whoever held the shovel became very aware of the progress of the discussion, making that person a partner with Brenda in keeping things going in the right direction. 

MyNameIs says:
Brenda S. Banks Educational Scholarship

A tremendous loss to the profession nationally and in the state of Georgia, and on the eve of SAA's first meeting in Atlanta since 1988.  What an important legacy she has left to our profession.

In addition to these accomplishments, the Brenda S. Banks Educational Scholarship is offered annually by SGA to fund attendance at continuing education workshops.

jmyoung says:

Her inclusive spirit, keen intellect, commitment to fairness, and boundless joie de vivre made Brenda an incomparable colleague, teacher, mentor, leader, and friend. Her legacy of contributions and accomplishments will bring benefits to many for years to come.   

Zanis1813 says:
Brenda Banks

Brenda had such an impact on the archives profession in so many ways and she was such a role model for everything an archivist could be. As SAA President, she appointed me to my very first SAA Committee, and I am truly saddened by our loss. Thank you, Brenda, for everything you have given to us, we will miss you.

sxh36 says:
Missing Brenda

I am so sad to hear of Brenda's passing. Not only was she a long-distance colleague but a friend. When I award the Distinguished Service Award to the Georgia Archives Institute next week during the ceremony at which Brenda planned to give a quick one-minute speech, please forgive me if I choke up and start crying.