While visiting with a group of agents at the recent NAIFA annual meeting, the subject of Jim Longley came up. We reminisced about this unique individual and I was encouraged to write a "Back Page" article about him.
Twenty-five years ago I was serving as the president of NAIFA. Late one evening my phone rang. Helen Longley was calling to tell me her husband Jim had passed away.
Jim was a very successful insurance agent. His enormous talent vaulted him to the presidency of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT). Jim was fond of saying, “When you are asked to do something you have a choice, you can say yes or no. Once you say yes, you no longer have a choice. You must do the job to your very best ability. Following his own admonition, he became one of the best presidents MDRT ever had.
A resident of Maine, he was unhappy with the direction the state was taking. The governor asked him to head a task force to identify the issues. After months of work they came up with a list of things that needed to be done. The report was largely ignored. Frustrated, Jim decided to run for governor. Only one problem—both parties had already chosen their nominees. He made a decision. In spite of the fact that no person running as an independent had ever been elected in Maine, he would run as an independent.
When he announced his decision to his wife and five children, they said, “This is a great idea but you can’t win.” His response was, “Alone I can’t. I’m asking all of you to campaign with me. Maybe they can beat one Longley, but they can’t beat seven of us.”
“A PROMISE IS A PROMISE.”
The editorials following the announcement of Jim’s candidacy can be summed up this way, “Longley would be a good governor but he has no chance of winning.” The polls suggested a similar result.
The seven Longleys were not deterred. They toured the state in their “bus,” working day and night. Nevertheless the weekend before the election the Longleys trailed badly.
I was watching the election results on CBS. Walter Cronkite was reviewing the governor races. Suddenly I heard him say, “Who is Longley? He is leading in Maine.” The morning New York Times headline read, “Independent candidate wins in Maine.”
Jim was a great governor. He implemented many of the items his task force recommended. As his term ended his approval rating was over 90 percent and 75 percent of those polled wanted him to run for reelection. He refused because he had promised originally not to run for a second term. Longley put it simply, “A promise is a promise.”
MDRT has promoted a concept called “Family Time.” A key part of “Family Time” is taking each of your children out regularly for a one-on-one experience. Jim and his daughter were enjoying an evening together when Jim collapsed. The diagnosis was terminal cancer.
Jim spent every waking moment fighting the disease. The American Cancer Society asked him to make a movie depicting the courageous battle he was waging. He was really in no condition to do it, but he did it anyway. His close friend, Jay Sheridan, a producer, was chosen to do the film. In one particularly poignant scene Jay is interviewing Jim and asks, “You signed your last letter I love you Jay. Was there any special significance to that?” Longley responds, “I do love you and I’ve never told you before.”
My wife Bette corresponded regularly with Jim. The last letter she received included a poem which Jim indicated was his favorite. He asked her to share it whenever she could. Here it is:
Our life will be richer, if on this day, we will make an effort to:
Mend a quarrel
Search for a forgotten friend
Write a letter to someone who misses us
Dismiss a suspicion and replace it with trust
Encourage someone who has lost faith
Forget an old grudge
Look for all the good in others, so we’ll never even notice the bad
Take two minutes to appreciate the beauty of nature
Tell someone we love them
Tell them again and again and again.
We miss you Jim!
Thomas John Wolff, CLU, ChFC, served as 1979-1980 president of NALU (NAIFA). A member of MDRT since 1958, he is a recipient of the John Newton Russell Award. He is a member of Hartford AIFA (Conn.) His email is email@example.com.