CAMDEN — The man who poured millions of dollars into the midcoast to build credit card giant MBNA has died.

Charles Cawley, whose call centers in Camden, Belfast and Rockland and elsewhere in Maine employed 4,500 at their peak, died at his home Wednesday. He was 75.

“My respect for Charlie knows no bounds,” said Shane Flynn, who was senior vice chair of MBNA.

Cawley’s impact goes well beyond his contributions of jobs and buildings that supported the credit card giant, said Alan Hinsey, a Camden area economic development director from 2000-2005.

“He fundamentally changed the workforce and the culture here by training regional folks into professional livelihoods that didn’t exist before,” said Hinsey. “When MBNA left, we had 2,500 workers trained and ready to go. That allowed us to attract companies like Boston Financial and athenahealth because of this workforce.”

Cawley, who had a home in Camden with his wife, Julie, founded MBNA in 1982 as the credit card subsidiary of MNC Financial, a regional bank holding company centered in Baltimore.

In 1993, he opened a regional marketing center in Camden, near where his family had summered for years. His grandfather once operated dress factories there and in Belfast.

From that first call center, which initially had 250 workers, MBNA built other facilities throughout the early ’90s and grew to employ thousands.

Cawley was a pioneer in the credit card industry. At a time when most credit card applications were screened by computers, Cawley used people, helping to ensure the company acquired high-quality customers. He also designed “affinity” programs, a practice where customers could choose an organization (think University of Maine or the Sierra Club) to receive a portion of each credit card transaction. The cards were branded with the organization and proved so popular that they fueled the company’s explosive growth into the ’90s and were widely adopted by competitors.

Cawley continued at the helm of MBNA until a dispute over his compensation with the board of directors led to his retirement in 2004. At the time, Cawley was making more than $50 million a year and contributed significantly to charitable and political causes.

MBNA’s impact on the midcoast’s economic and cultural health was formidable just for its infusion of more than 3,000 jobs, but the company’s reach extended much further, particularly with philanthropy.

From 1993 to 2005, MBNA gave more than $50 million to various organizations and causes. Through the MBNA Foundation, the company gave mostly in communities where it had business offices and focused on four areas of interest: education, human services, health care, and arts and culture.

The education grants and scholarships program was the foundation’s centerpiece. It awarded Excellence in Education grants to teachers who enhanced the academic experience and performance of their students. Special consideration was given to programs benefiting the economically disadvantaged. High school students bound for a Maine-based college or university were also eligible for financial aid.

The foundation also awarded several hundred grants to community libraries, cultural organizations and conservation groups, and enabled United Mid-Coast Charities (formerly Camden-Rockport Charities) to greatly expand the number of organizations served by its grant-making program.

In 2006, MBNA was acquired by Bank of America for $35 billion, which consolidated operations.

But Cawley’s impact on the midcoast economy continues. Bank of America still operates a customer service center in Belfast and although much of the former MBNA property was divided and sold off, athenahealth moved into one of the call centers in Belfast in 2005 and now employs 900 people.

Boston Financial moved into former MBNA offices in Rockland in 2008 and employs more than 100.

“His impact can’t be overstated,” said Hinsey.

Funeral arrangements for Cawley are being handled by Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home in Rockland.

Business editor Carol Coultas contributed to this report.

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