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A Class Act

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To the Point by Jack Bobo

On Jan. 1, 1979, I celebrated my mothers birthday in Phoenix, then boarded a plane for Washington, D.C. The weather in Phoenix was beautiful, temperature around 72 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. When I landed in Washington a few hours later, the skies were gray, it was cold and snow was in the forecast. But it was important that I get to Washington that day for the next day, Jan. 2, was my first official day as head of the staff at National Association of Life Underwriters headquarters.

I will never forget that first morning. As I drove to the NALU headquarters, snow was starting to fall, the cloud level was down around the treetops, people on the streets were bundled in heavy clothing and it was really cold. After I parked my car in the lot, I walked around the building to the front door and as I did so, I observed that the building never looked drearier, a stark contrast to the gleaming buildings I left in Phoenix. By the time I arrived at my office, I was really low and asking myself, “My God, what have I done?”

But as I walked into my office, there was sitting in the middle of my desk a Steuben eagle and a note from the Million Dollar Round Table Executive Committee wishing me well in my new endeavor. No one will ever know how much that raised my spirits that day, and they never flagged in succeeding years.

Also memorable was my final MDRT meeting while I was NALUs CEO. Charles Marks, the MDRT president, presented me with a custom-made fly rod to “enhance my days in retirement.” Coincidentally, the date of that presentation happened to be my birthday, which Charles announced to the audience. Having “Happy Birthday” sung to you by over 5,000 people is an awesome experience and once again, my spirits were lifted by these people as I entered a new phase of my life.

But in between these events I had the pleasure of working cooperatively with some truly great MDRT Executive Committees and the staff at their headquarters. As a new person in association management, my relationship with Rod Geer, the consummate professional association executive, was of immense help. Rods service as staff head at MDRT was a model that I often used as a guide in my own work at NALU.

John Prast followed Rod as staff head of MDRT, and he continued in the tradition and spirit of Rod Geer. It was a real privilege to have had the opportunity to work with both of them!

But even before my tenure in Washington at NALU, the MDRT played an important part in my life. Attending the annual MDRT meeting is an unforgettable experience, which starts with the flag ceremony honoring all the countries that have members. I have watched with interest as the number of flags from other countries has increased over the years. The addition of these new flags, I believe, more than anything else demonstrates the spreading influence of the U.S. around the world in the marketing of life insurance.

But there is another not-so-subtle point that characterizes this ceremony. Some of the flags that enter the arena represent countries that either dont speak to one another or are downright hostile, and yet they gather together at this meeting to learn from each other ways to better serve the insurance buying public.

I felt a particular kinship to the MDRT during the years my partner of 17 years, Rulon Rasmussen, served on the executive committee and as its president in 1976. Rulon was the Father of “Family Tyme, an old-fashioned new idea.” Rulon was right on target when he wisely counseled that the family is still the most important entity that our business depends upon.

There have been many memorable moments in the 35-plus MDRT meetings that I have attended, but a few stand out as particularly inspiring. In 1980, appearing in a crisp U.S. Navy uniform, Captain Coffee delivered one of the most inspiring talks I have ever heard. Coffee related his experiences as a POW for seven years in a prison in Vietnam during that war. One could not help but feel good as an American after hearing this presentation of the trials and challenges he and his buddies endured and survived during those years.

Then there was Rosanne LaFlame of Canada, who in 1978 presented a picture of raw courage against terrible odds. As a small child she lost both legs and one arm in a horrible accident. But Rosanne did not live her life as a cripple. Her presentation detailed how she learned to swim and to water-ski and become a productive citizen. She gave her speech while wearing a beautiful full-length dress she had crocheted herself.

At the 2001 meeting in Toronto, Ronan Tynan of Kilkenny, Ireland, one of the “3 Irish Tenors” lifted the crowd to its feet with his powerful rendition of “Annie Moore.” Ronan, a double amputee, had, despite his handicap, won numerous gold medals in a wide variety of sporting events. Along with his rise to international fame as a singer, he also became a doctor specializing in sports medicine.

But that is what MDRT is really all about–encouraging people to strive to do their best–no matter what the odds.

My most memorable quote from MDRT meetings was given by Dr. Victor Frankl (author of the book, “Mans Search for Meaning”) at the 1967 meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland. Recognizing that he was speaking to a mostly American audience, he closed this talk by saying, “On your East Coast you have a Statue of Liberty. I suggest that on your West Coast you erect a Statue of Responsibility.”

His point was, of course, that you cannot have liberty without responsibility. There are goings-on in our society today that make me realize how much we need to be reminded of our responsibility. It is also what our business is all about.

Thanks, MDRT. You really are .

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 2, 2002. Copyright 2002 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.


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