On Tuesday, July 17, the life insurance industry lost one of our most beloved and influential figures when American Generals own Benjamin N. “Woody” Woodson died at the age of 93. Known affectionately as “Mr. Life Insurance,” Woodson leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of industry achievements and accolades.
As Woodson himself once wrote, “the terms of life are hard, but the terms of life insurance are easy.” He believed passionately in the power of life insurance to make life easier for his fellow man. And the world around him responded in kind. Throughout his 63-year career, his contributions have helped millions of Americans protect their families and build better lives.
Woodson succeeded American Generals founder, Gus S. Wortham, as the companys second chairman and CEO from 1972 to 1978. Under his direction, American General reached $1 billion in assets, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and embarked on a growth through acquisition strategy that strengthened our life insurance operations and moved the organization into new markets. The vision that Woodson nurtured for this company took root and continues well beyond his retirement.
Yet for all of the milestones he achieved as an insurance executive, Woodsons legacy will burn brightest among those individuals most vitally involved in life insurance–the agents. To Woodson, the agent was king. And for those agents who knew him or even simply knew of him, the feeling was mutual.
For more than 50 years, he earned the respect and recognition of agents industrywide through his colorful essays on life and life insurance, published regularly as “The Back Page” by Life Association News. Clearly, no one believed in life insurance as strongly as he did, or expressed it as plainly and persuasively as he did. He was, and always will be, a kindred spirit to the agents he so cherished.
At the age of 70, Woodson retired as chairman and CEO of American General. The next day, he signed a contract to become a life insurance agent and proceeded to earn lifetime membership in the Million Dollar Round Table. Thats vintage Woody.
I would venture to say he was the greatest “agent” this industry may ever know, and not for his sales achievements–as incredible as they were–but rather because he personified why we come to work every day: to improve the lives of others.
Woodson was equally committed to serving the industry and his community. He was a founder and life trustee of the Life Underwriter Training Council. He served on the boards of the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association and the American Council of Life Insurance, and as president of the Texas Life Insurance Association.
Driven by a singular regard for his fellow man, Woody Woodson inspired this industry as no one has before or since. He was a compelling combination of traditionalist, understanding what insurance means to the customers we serve, and innovator, recognizing the potential and opportunities the future holds for our industry.
His reward, in his own words, was “the rich satisfaction of knowing that each day I contribute to the welfare of my fellow man.”
As always, Woody Woodson led by example. His legacy belongs now to our entire industry, to the people of American General, and to the communities we serve.
Robert M. Devlin is chairman and CEO of American General Corp.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 13, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.