In March of this year, my father turned 91. He wrote the inset essay in 1936 when he was 12 years old and in the 6th grade. What strikes me about the topic of his paper is that he wrote about fires, which suggests that the reality of fire damage was impressed upon him at an early age. Who would have suspected that, in another 12 years, following his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy at the conclusion of the Second World War, he would enter into the insurance business with his father, who had succeeded my Great-Grandfather years earlier.
My dad worked in insurance from 1948 to 1989 when he retired and sold the business to me. During that time, he worked with thousands of clients and helped them deal with the reality of potential loss not just from fires, but from automobile accidents, “early” death, lawsuits and an innumerable set of undesirable circumstances.
Even during the war when he was the skipper of an amphibious landing craft (“LCT”), he had his General Insurance book to read during his down time. Apparently, the insurance business was forming in his blood! What is especially noteworthy about this commitment, is that reading about insurance is not nearly as exciting as you might imagine if, in fact, you have such a vivid imagination. Rather, the technical aspects of the insurance world can be complicated and highly detailed but seldom exciting. To imagine a young man, under the age of 24, commanding a ship of military sailors during the height of WW II and reading a book on insurance during his downtime really astounds me. However, he wanted to work with his dad and that was what it took, so he studied and entered the Merriam Agency (then simply called, “Charles W. Merriam Insurance”).
I cannot help but feel that the paper my dad wrote might have given his own father a clue that, perhaps, there was more than merely family interest involved. Rather, there may have been an interest in looking to help people, as information has the potential to do. By his informing clients of the potential of that loss there was, and is, the ability to address the consequences of loss, and the means to avoid or mitigate it. When one knows such things, they are then empowered to avoid what may rob them of their possessions, their livelihood, their future plans and perhaps most importantly, their dreams.
I do not want to get too ethereal here, but I am grateful for my dad and the legacy he left me. I enjoy working with my clients, my staff and my associates. I enjoy lecturing on risk management and helping my clients navigate through the multiplicity of options we all face in this ever-increasingly complicated and risky world. I do not contend that my father’s article stands as a pinnacle of academic achievement, but I enjoyed reading it and knowing that, even 79 years later, he too is pleased with his decision to enter the business and help people, even if all he did was to remind them to completely extinguish their fires following their camping trip.