Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 20th 2019

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Outtakes—You Would Have Liked Him

By Rick Outzen

This Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of the last Father’s Day that I celebrated with my father. He was 49, and I was 21.

You would have liked my dad. He was a compassionate leader who grew up in the Great Depression. He was a partner in Eustis, Dees & Outzen, one of the top insurance firms in the Mississippi Delta. He also was an election commissioner for Washington County, which was a part-time position in the ’70s.

Richard Outzen, Sr. was devoted to his family and church. He coached all five of his sons in YMCA football, placing more emphasis on learning the fundamentals and teamwork than winning. He served several terms as parish council president for St. Joseph Catholic Church and on its school boards. He taught all his children to be leaders and problem solvers, not complainers.

When he returned to Greenville, Miss., after the Korean War and joined the insurance firm, my dad had to figure out how to build a book of business in a place with mostly family businesses that already had agents. He chose to focus on Asian-American and African-American communities that few agents would insure. I remember traveling with him to take Polaroids of homes and businesses to convince insurance carriers to write the policies. I went with him to hand life insurance checks to grieving families when a loved one passed.

In the years before his death, dad would become president of the Mississippi Independent Insurance Agents Association. He was recognized as one of the top agents for several insurance carriers. And as great as those honors were, he was most proud of handling the insurance for nearly all black-owned business in the state north of Jackson.

The Carter administration had several programs to help start-ups for black entrepreneurs. The young business owners remembered how my dad had taken care of their parents and grandparents. The only insurance agent they would use was my dad.

Dad mentored dozens of people, some in insurance, many in other fields. He believed leaders should take stands, even if they were unpopular. Greenville had an annual fundraiser of the Heart Fund, a predecessor to American Heart Association. For decades, the white and black communities had separate drives. Dad agreed to chair the fundraiser, but only if the two drives were combined into one. George Lewis, an African-American painter and dad’s childhood friend, co-chaired the fundraiser, which broke all records.

Even though he was only in my life for a little more than two decades, my dad taught me a great deal about leadership, compassion and taking stands. For that, I’m forever grateful.

And, yes, I still miss him.