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You Never Know

A cold call leads to a lasting and important relationship with a business owner and his family.

By Helen Thompson

Ray and Geri considered themselves to be an average American family. She was a teacher, and he was a successful small-business owner. They had two sons. Ray’s restaurant was thriving, and they had an opportunity to expand their business in an upscale area of Buffalo, N.Y. Their dreams were coming true.

Around 1997, they got a phone call from Bill Lunney, CLU, a representative of Equitable Life (now AXA). It was a cold call, he recalls. “Turned out they needed some insurance, as Ray had just gotten this new property,” Bill says. “He had gotten some loans through the Small Business Administration, and of course they required him to have coverage.”

Bill was able to set up an appointment with them, and he went through all the coverage that they would need. He took the time to explain the importance of life insurance, and convinced them to take out a $750,000 life policy that would take care of them if anything happened.

The nightmare begins
Ray was experiencing some unusual fatigue early 2001, and he went in for tests. The results stunned the family. He had stage 4 leukemia. “We couldn’t believe it. The only symptom Ray had was fatigue,” Geri says. “The first meeting with the oncologist was the most heartbreaking. ‘You have between two and five years to live,’ he said.”

Ray was only 48 years old—he decided to fight. The treatment would consist of aggressive chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. One of the first things Geri remembers him saying was “Thank God I have life insurance.” She didn’t want him to talk like that, of course, but it made an impression. “When hit with this devastating news, he was only concerned with his family’s future,” she says.

From reaction to action
“Ray and I had gotten to be friends,” says Bill. “They lived close to us, our kids went to school together, and we spent a lot of time talking about what to do.” He helped the family put together some long-term plans, helping them find attorneys and accountants to get them through that side of estate planning.

And before Ray passed away on May 2, 2004, Bill’s relationship with the family continued to deepen. “You go out and sell insurance contracts, you do business for 25 years, you deliver checks here and there—and you just never know when something will hit this close to you,” Bill says. “We spent a lot of time talking about what he wanted to do and how we would go about doing it.”

They’d chosen a location for the restaurant that was in an up-and-coming section of the city, and as such the mortgage was pretty steep. But thanks to the life insurance policy, Geri was able to pay off the mortgage on the business and on her home. The reality that Ray had envisioned was coming true. The restaurant continued to thrive, and both of their sons were able to finish college. Geri still teaches, running the business with the same full-time help Ray had.

The gift of security
For Geri, the year after Ray’s death was one “filled with grief and sadness,” but she realizes that it could have been much, much worse. “I am fortunate to be living in my home debt-free,” she says. “Our restaurant is still operating, and my sons will have the opportunity to continue their father’s dream if they choose to. I thank Ray for the last gift he gave me—the gift of security. I thank Bill Lunney for being our guardian angel.”

She remains Bill’s client and is still amazed that they were fortunate enough to be brought together with him when it mattered. “When I listen to others say, ‘This could never happen to us,’ I think back to when we thought that,” she explains. “It can and does happen to people like us every single day. I thank God that we were prepared.”


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