Banking executive Richard Taber's earliest memories at First County Bank aren't from analyzing loan portfolios, but from trying to stay on his feet hour after hour when Pitney Bowes Inc. let out on pay day.

Taber was chief executive officer of the Stamford-headquartered bank from 1989 until Feb. 25. He retired from First County after 42 years of service, leaving it with $1.3 billion in assets and fulfilling his primary mission.

Taber says when he became CEO of the bank, his mentor, Dave Stewart, told him, "Your job is to not be the last CEO."

Thomas L. Bartram is now tasked with the same mission at the 160-year-old institution.

Taber credits his longevity at the bank as the result of "getting stuck in a rut."

John Carusone, president of the Bank Analysis Center Inc., said it was more than that. He said Taber piloted the institution through some rough waters and earned respect and admiration for the job he did.

"Dick Taber is a community banker, and he has the scars to prove it," Carusone said.

Despite the challenging economy, Carusone said the bank is in good financial position.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said First National had deposits of $944 million, loans of $808 million and employed 216. The bank has 15 branches in Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk and Westport. The FDIC pegged the non-performing, or noncurrent, loans at $28.8 million, or about 3.5 percent of its net loan portfolio.

Taber is representative of a breed of banker who rose from the ranks, but the distance he rose from is a bit of an anomaly. He worked his way up the chain from teller to CEO.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 edition, bank managers are promoted from the ranks of accountants, auditors and analysts. Tellers are considered the entry-level position in banks and have a high turnover rate.

Taber said it was Stewart who suggested he take a summer job with the bank in 1968.

"It sounds good to me," Taber recalls saying. "You got a whole drawer full of money."

Taber said working while going to college let him see how different managers applied business theory in the real world and he learned what worked and what didn't. First County hired him full-time in 1971. That job gave him an opening into the bank and an appreciation of what it means to be on the front lines of the banking industry.

"It gives you a different feeling, being a teller," he said. "When Pitney Bowes got paid, you were exhausted."