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Advice Heeded

A friendly suggestion by an employer gave comfort to a woman who lost her family.

By Chuck Jones

When Shelley M. Rowe, LUTCF, a general agent in the Denver area, hired an up-and-coming salesman a few years ago, she knew she had a budding star on her hands. But when that star literally fell from the sky, she lost not only an employee, but a dear friend as well.

Rowe hired the young man, whom we’ll call Ray Seeger, in June 2001. Ray was 40 years old and had come to her after kicking around in various jobs in Vail Valley, Colo., renowned for its world-famous ski resorts. “He was out of the chute really fast,” Rowe recalls. “He did well in sales despite not having an insurance background.

“One thing we talked about early on was that an agent needs to own what he’s trying to sell,” she says. “I suggested that he purchase life insurance on himself and his family. Your first sale is always to yourself.” Ray was married to Alice and had a six-month-old son, Woody.

The new agent took out a $600,000 term policy on himself, a $400,000 term policy on Alice and a $100,000 variable universal policy on little Woody—all with Kansas City Life. The total monthly premium for all three policies was $150.

“An agent needs to own what he’s trying to sell. Your first sale is always to yourself.”

Mountains of trouble
Fast-forward a year. Ray’s sales career was advancing at a rapid clip. His wife worked as a part-time bookkeeper for a Vail Valley real estate office, and little Woody was an active toddler of 18 months.

In early August of 2002, Ray decided to take his family up to Idaho to visit Alice’s relatives. They had planned to drive through northern Colorado and across Wyoming on the way to Idaho, but a friend, who was an airplane pilot, offered to fly them over the mountains instead. Ray accepted the offer.

The small plane took off at 8:30 on a clear, dry morning. Alice sat in the front seat next to the pilot. Ray sat in the back with Woody, his son, safely strapped into a child’s car seat.

About a half-hour later, the plane developed engine trouble. The plane was headed toward the Flat Tops mountain range, which lies just west of the Continental Divide. “The pilot tried to land the plane in a meadow inside the mountains,” Rowe explains. “Even though he landed it, it was immediately engulfed in flames.” Alice and the pilot got out safely. Ray, however, remained in the back seat and struggled to free Woody from the car-seat straps.

Ray could not free his son, and Woody died in the flaming wreckage still buckled in his car seat. Ray got out, but suffered severe burns. Alice was also burned and had broken her leg. The pilot was unharmed.

Ray was taken to the University of Colorado Burn Center in Denver, where he was treated for severe burns over 30 percent of his body. Alice was sent to Vail Valley Hospital for treatment for her burns and the broken leg.

Is that our guy?
The next day at her office, Rowe received a call from her field manager in Grand Junction. “Have you seen the paper?” he asked. “It says that a [Ray Seeger] was in a terrible plane crash. Is that our guy?”

In a panic, Rowe made a few phone calls and determined that it was, indeed, her star salesman and his family involved in the accident. She then visited Alice at the hospital. “Needless to say, she was distraught,” Rowe says. “There wasn’t much I could say, but there was plenty I could do for this family.”

Rowe immediately filed a death claim on Woody’s variable universal life policy. “I called Kansas City Life and told them the situation,” she says. “I didn’t want this family further burdened by bills at a time like this. So without a death certificate, Kansas City cut an emergency check for a portion of the death benefit. Within two days, I was able to deliver a $25,000 check to [Alice].”

“The boy just needed his daddy”
While the check helped with the family’s mortgage and car payments, it did nothing to help Ray recover his health. “With burn victims, it’s important to watch their vital organs,” Rowe explains. “They tend to shut down.” On August 21, Ray’s body ceased to function, and he died in his hospital bed.

“I went to see [Alice] as soon as I had heard that [Ray] had died,” Rowe says. “She looked at me and said, ‘My son and my husband were very, very close. I guess the boy just really needed his daddy. I know they’re both together with the Lord.’”

A life-changing experience
In early September, Rowe went to deliver the final checks for both claims to Alice. “She’s like the daughter I never had,” she says, wiping away a tear. “In fact, [Ray] used to call me Mom. He had lost his own mother early in life, and he thought of me as his mom.

“This case caused me to make a change in my agency,” she admits. “I used to suggest to my new people that they buy what they sell, just like I did with [Ray]. Now, I require all my agents to buy that coverage. I’m just glad that [Ray] took my suggestion.”


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