Washington Mutual's onetime CEO, Lou Pepper, and other executives have launched a fundraising effort to help local employees hurt by the thrift's recent collapse.

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Former Washington Mutual Chief Executive Lou Pepper is leading an effort to raise money for local employees hurt by the thrift’s failure and subsequent sale to JPMorgan Chase.

The effort will also help morale among frustrated former employees who’ve watched recent events from outside the company, he said. “They’re all madder than hell, and this would turn it into something positive.”

Pepper and four former top WaMu executives — Fay Chapman, Liane Wilson, Lindy Friedlander and Lee Lannoye — already have raised more than $50,000. Pepper also plans to give the bank’s first stock certificate to the Seattle Foundation, to be auctioned on eBay.

In a letter to former colleagues, Pepper and his wife, Mollie, encourage them to “take pride in what you wrought even though others took it down.”

The group plans to use the money to help current WaMu employees in the state who lost money in the company’s stock and options, which are now worthless, as well as people who lose their jobs after the acquisition by JPMorgan.

Criteria are still in the works with the Seattle Foundation, but the intention is to help people who have worked at WaMu at least five years and need either retraining or assistance in sending a child to a state college.

“We are all family and friends and it is hard to see anyone in the family suffer hardship,” he wrote.

Pepper was WaMu’s CEO in the 1980s. Chapman was the last of the others to leave the company, in December 2007.

In the letter, Pepper recalls when WaMu had layoffs in the early 1980s. He later learned of one woman who resigned so another employee, a single mother in less financially secure circumstances, could keep her job.

That incident made him aware of problems unique to single parents and “made me very proud of the culture you folks created at Washington Mutual, one in which people looked out for each other,” Pepper wrote.

The group does not plan to seek contributions from the general public, only from people with ties to WaMu who “were lucky enough to have sold their stock before the big mess.”

Pepper emphasizes in the letter that he does not blame JPMorgan for the situation.

“What happened in the last few years was an aberration in the long history of a great institution,” he wrote. “It should have been able to weather this financial turmoil and come out the other end. That it got so bad that all was lost is not your fault and should not reduce the pride you always took in your work and the bank you served.”

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com