G. Lee Toole, 89, a retired Girard Bank vice president

Posted: October 10, 2009

G. Lee Toole, 89, a retired bank vice president who was a prisoner of war for 18 months during World War II, died Monday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

Mr. Toole was driving from church to his home in Newtown Square on Sunday when his Cadillac collided with another vehicle at an intersection. Police are investigating.

Mr. Toole graduated from West Philadelphia High School and then was a teller for Upper Darby National Bank. In 1942, after he was drafted into the Army, he married his high school sweetheart, Betty Jane Witman.

In September 1943, several days after participating in the invasion of Italy, Mr. Toole and other GIs were captured in Altavilla. The GIs were taken by train to Germany. "I saw Rome and St. Peter's through the slats in the boxcar," he told a Delaware County Daily Times reporter. For more than a year, Mr. Toole worked on a farm with other POWs seven days a week, chopping wood and harvesting potatoes. "In a way it was a blessing," he said. "We could get food better."

In January 1945 the prisoners were told they were being marched west. For four months they walked through bitter cold at night to avoid strafing by American and German planes before being liberated in May.

Mr. Toole, who received the Bronze Star Medal, never spoke about his war experience until he was interviewed by the Daily Times in 2003, his family said.

After his discharge, he returned to Upper Darby National Bank, which later merged with Girard Bank. While working, he earned a bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University. In 1960, Mr. Toole became a vice president at Girard Bank in Philadelphia. Several years later, he helped launch the bank's then-innovative automated teller machines, which were accessed with "George" debit cards.

Mr. Toole was treasurer of the board that established Delaware County Community College in 1967. He was former treasurer of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Cancer Society and served on the board of Delaware County Memorial Hospital for 15 years.

He loved vacations at the Jersey Shore with his family, and travel, his daughter Barbara Nelsen said. In the last five years, he visited Norway, took a South American cruise, and attended an Army reunion in Italy, she said.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Toole is survived by another daughter, Virginia Bell; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. His wife died in 2004.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, 3625 Chapel Rd., Newtown Square. Friends may call from 10 a.m. Burial will be in Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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