Ingeborg Hegenbart, ‘Mrs. International'

Ingeborg Hegenbart, once a mainstay of Charlotte's international trade and banking community whose behind-the-scenes diplomacy wooed major speakers to town, died Sunday evening.

She was 84.

“She was very happy in life,” said her husband of 61 years, Alex. The two met in their native Holland in 1946, emigrated in 1948 and had made their home in Belmont since the mid-70s. Hegenbart spent 12 years with then First Union's international division, 12 years with another bank, and joined then SouthTrust to start its international operations in Charlotte.

“She helped teach Carolinas small businesses how to do business internationally,” said Bradley Thompson, who hired Hegenbart at SouthTrust and is now head of NewDominion Bank in Charlotte.

Retired Bank of America chief Hugh McColl Jr. credits her with helping teach him and others about the intricacies of international business.

“She was a terrific international banker,” McColl said. “She trained a lot of young people in how to deal with foreign trade and financing of trade.”

He added, “I think of her as an eternal optimist, having a very upbeat outlook on life in general.”

Friends and colleagues on Monday recalled an outgoing woman of determination rooted in surviving World War II, sometimes with only tulip bulbs to eat.

Hegenbart served as president of both the N.C. World Trade Association and the Charlotte World Trade Association. For the state group, she is credited with landing such speakers as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and retired Gen. Colin Powell.

“She was just Mrs. International,” said Wayne Cooper, the state's honorary Mexican consul, an international businessman and friend. “She had contacts all over the world.”

Hegenbart suffered from lymphodema, which caused painful swelling of her legs and feet. She rarely complained, preferring to talk of current events and her family. The couple have three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“She's able to run and jump over tulips now,” said son Steve. “She's in a lot better place.”

Memorial service is Sunday, 2 p.m., at Avondale Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.