Mabrey Messages: The Matriarchs of Mabrey

How Lurline and Marilyn Mabrey have inspired the next generation of Mabrey women

As Mabrey Bank celebrates its centennial throughout 2024, the bank honors the Mabrey family by publishing unique feature stories, narrating the history of the bank through the family’s words and stories. Please enjoy the first of three features, The Matriarchs of Mabrey.


Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. The cadence of high heels rapping against the historic tile floor at the then-named Citizens Bank & Trust in Okmulgee signaled a familiar presence. Lurline Mabrey, Chairman of the Board at Mabrey Bank and matriarch for one of the most well-known banking families in Oklahoma, had come into the bank for her weekly visit to check her mail.

Dressed to the nines on any given day, purse in hand and, of course, generous heels, “Mama Lu,” as she was affectionately known, was a picture of professionalism. Before heading up to her office on the second story, always eschewing the elevator for the stairs, she would greet the tellers, ask about their families and speak to customers in the lobby.

“She was just a natural at connecting with people and was such a leader by example. Everyone loved having her at the bank,” said Marilyn Mabrey Sulivant, Mama Lu’s daughter and current Chairman of the Board.

Mama Lu’s signature high heels served as an apt metaphor for the high standard to which she held herself to, and everyone around her hoped to achieve.

“Everyone leveled up in her presence,” said Melanie Mabrey Eggert, her granddaughter, and Consumer Loan Documentation Manager at Mabrey Bank. “I had to get rid of my gum every time I was around her. She was a reminder of how to act and present yourself.”

Taking a more active role at the bank following the death of her husband, Carlisle Mabrey, Sr., in 1991, Mama Lu served as Chairman of the Board from that point until her own passing in 2012. Prior to her time at the bank, she taught at the Episcopal Day School for 10 years and was a noted fundraiser, volunteer and philanthropist across Okmulgee, serving as a Chair or Board Member for no less than seven different organizations and nonprofits. Throughout it all, she mixed genuine kindness with unfailing poise, possessing an aura that rubbed off on anyone she met.

“In our culture for a career woman, it’s a bit of an oxymoron,” said Melanie. “You often see a woman in business labeled as either ‘professional’ or ‘kind.’ Mama Lu was both. She cared so much about the team members and her communities. No one worked harder at raising money for worthy causes and volunteering her time. She didn’t have to do any of that. She could have just been a mom and wife. She could have done anything she wanted. Instead, she chose to put her time and effort back into those in need.”

For Mama Lu, the connections she made with the community were her principal focus. Her favorite events at Mabrey Bank were the company parties and picnics, where she met and interacted with team members and their families outside of the workplace. To her, a good business meant good people who cared deeply for one another.

“Mama Lu always made sure her community succeeded first,” said Katie Mabrey, another of Mama Lu’s granddaughters who worked at Mabrey Bank from 2009-2018. “She understood how much influence the bank had on the community. It was always service to others over service to self.”

By the time Mama Lu took over as Chairman of the Board, all four of her children had begun working at the bank in various roles. Marilyn, the lone daughter amongst the four siblings, aspired to have the same impact on the bank, and more importantly, on others.

“I wanted to be just like her,” said Marilyn. “Her influence on the people at the bank, and those in Okmulgee in general, was evident. I always wanted to measure up to her. It was more difficult to be noticed with three brothers. I felt like I had to work twice as hard to make myself seen.”

Mama Lu’s standard for excellence carried a trickle-down effect to her daughter with Marilyn mirroring her mother’s professionalism and example for the better part of three decades at the bank. In 2015, Marilyn followed in Mama Lu’s footsteps as Chairman of the Board – a position offered to her by her three brothers, Carlisle III, Bruce and John.

“I remember when they came to Marilyn about being the Chair a few years after Mama Lu had passed. She was floored by that,” said Melanie. “Marilyn was honored that her brothers offered her that important position.”

Left to right: Katie Mabrey, Marilyn Mabrey Sulivant and Melanie Mabrey Eggert

It’s a position that, even after a decade of serving as the Chair, Marilyn takes as seriously as ever. From time spent preparing on her own prior to Board Meetings to speaking to Mabrey Bank executive leadership about the day-to-day dealings at the bank, the importance of representing the bank in her position is paramount to Marilyn.

However, what might be even greater than her impact as Chairman is the influence that Marilyn now carries as the matriarch of the family. She’s known as the ‘glue’ of the Mabreys – the connector that can bridge a gap between personalities and a central force to whom all others gravitate towards. Just like Marilyn looked up to Mama Lu as the female example she aspired to be, she now occupies that same pedestal for Melanie and Katie Mabrey, her nieces.

“Marilyn’s openness to hearing people is one of her greatest qualities,” said Katie. “If I ever had a problem, Mama Lu and Marilyn are the two people in this world that I would not be scared to talk to. Having Marilyn in my life is like Mama Lu never leaving. There is zero judgement, and she is always willing to have an open ear to everyone. How lucky are we to have an aunt like that?”

In the traditionally male-dominated industry of finance, Marilyn has shown both Katie and Melanie what it means to have a successful working career as a woman in business. Her persona radiated proficiency, grace and warmth, affecting others within her orbit, both in her family and at the bank, just like her mother before her.

“For many of us, we commute to work, clock in, do our jobs, clock out and commute back home,” said Melanie. “It’s something we have to do. Growing up and seeing Marilyn, there was none of that. Ever. She has always made it look like it was her purpose to be at the bank. It’s a piece of who she and her brothers are. They are as excited about work as they are to go on vacation.”

It’s not just Melanie and Katie who have experienced the continued influence of Mama Lu through Marilyn. For years, Marilyn supervised Mabrey Bank tellers, the front lines of any bank and often where first impressions with customers are made. Marilyn’s established sense of purpose rubbed off on them as well, helping to build a culture throughout all levels of Mabrey Bank that is accepting and authentic.

“You hope you can provide some influence along the way, but it was not something I ever thought about,” said Marilyn. “I have enjoyed supervising tellers over the years and have gotten that reaction about the impact I have had. It’s something that I inherited from my mother – the way we treat people. It is so special to hear someone appreciate something I have said or taught them. That’s the reward. Not any accomplishments you receive, but the impact you can have on someone that could encourage them to do the same thing for the next person.”

When the name of the bank changed in 2015 to ‘Mabrey Bank,’ it served as a reflection of the bank’s history and its connection to the communities. However, it also personified the feeling that many team members and customers of the bank had already experienced – that they were an extension of the Mabrey family.

“I am truly proud of our leadership team that welcomes a culture where people feel comfortable giving their opinions,” said Marilyn. “We have consciously tried to ensure that when anyone sits down at a table together, we are all equals. I think that atmosphere encourages everyone to feel like they are a part of the family, no matter what your last name is.”

It’s a culture that was, in part, established by Mama Lu and continued by Marilyn, Katie and now Melanie.

“Mama Lu was not shy to tell people she was proud of them,” said Melanie. “She would just shower everyone with praise. I can tell you that she would be so proud of everyone and where the bank is right now.”

Main Office - Bixby Corporate 918.366.4000 Mon-Fri, 9am - 4pm Sat-Sun, Closed