FAIA honors Irma Award winner as she leaves the workaday world
Linda Gillespie wins coveted Award for Lifetime Achievement in the insurance industry
By Alice Ashby Roettger
Surprise is a prime element when it comes to the announcement of the prestigious Irma Platt Award. Since its inception in 2001, its creator, Tom Cotton, president and CEO of the Hugh Cotton Insurance Agency in Orlando, Florida, has become an expert at subterfuge when it comes to arranging that surprise. And there was no exception when Linda Gillespie of the Franklin Insurance Agency in Tallahassee, Florida, became this year's "target."
According to Linda's husband, Joe, "She is especially difficult to fool about anything, including surprises, but we really got her on this one. Tom arrived at the office on the pretext that he was touting the benefits of the FAIA (Florida Association of Insurance Agents) and what they can do for each agent.
"Carlton Franklin, the president of the agency, had lunch catered for all of the employees. I came into the receptionist area and hid behind the wall. She would have known something was up had she realized I was there."
Busy working, Linda didn't even see Cotton until he entered the room, where he informed the group about FAIA board activities and urged support of the organization and its convention. He then mentioned that the name of this year's recipient of the Irma Award would be announced at that time. However, the announcement came a bit early for this group as Tom casually revealed that the Franklin Agency's own Linda Gillespie was this year's winner.
Joe remembers, "Unfortunately, I was unable to see her face, but others told me they thought she was going to faint. She went pale and was caught totally and absolutely off guard. Then I stepped out, and she knew it was no joke."
"I was surprised and speechless," Linda laughingly recalls. "I have always looked up to that award and to Irma herself, who worked into her 80s and lived independently. Tom gave us a marvelous description of the lady for whom the award is named, and I am truly humbled."
Named for its first recipient, Irma Platt of Cotton's own agency, the award recognizes a person for lifetime dedication to an agency—a person who, according to Cotton, "is neither a principal nor a producer," but who as part of the support staff contributes in any way needed to the success of that agency. Over her career of more than 40 years, Irma served as vice president, business manager, and administrative assistant at the Hugh Cotton Insurance Agency, Inc., of Orlando, Florida. Irma Platt serves as the example and, according to Carlton Franklin, Linda Gillespie fits that description to a "T."
Those who have worked with Linda, as well as members of her family, agree that she is the epitome of the work ethic—a concept that she carried with her from her childhood, into her family life and, of course, into her career.
The first-born of six, this native Ohioan learned about responsibility early on. Then, like many people, she entered the insurance industry sideways by answering an ad as an 18-year-old. She later pursued the same line of work when she relocated to Florida at the ripe age of 21. In 1977, says Carlton, "Linda started working with my father, Bill Franklin, and has continued to provide outstanding service and leadership to the agencies we have built over the years. Linda's honesty, integrity, hard work and professionalism have formed the foundation that has made our agency a success."
In turn, Linda says that, as a CSR assigned to Bill Franklin's team, "I found that working for a family-owned firm, rather than a large firm, was a good fit for me." She points out that Bill, the agency's chairman of the board, although retired, "still comes by and asks about everyone. He cares about the workers and appreciates what they do."
Inspired by that attitude, Linda has always endeavored to do more than necessary—in true Irma fashion. "My bosses would call me a jack of all trades. I've done it all; I've even cleaned the bathroom and didn't think a thing of it." Although her title is Customer Service Agent (at one time she did hold corporate office), her length of service makes her "the old lady here, a come-to person, question answerer, who knows the history of the firm" and can chronicle the changes.
Speaking of agency leaders who hold the family name, she recalls that the current executive vice president, Paul Franklin, "was in middle school when I came, and Carlton was in high school. I saw these boys grow as persons and grow into their careers here." Cotton notes that Linda "helped to train the second generation of owners and now works for them today."
Says her stepson, David, "When it comes to her commitment to her work, I don't know of a more selfless, hard-working, loyal woman—and she does it with the biggest smile anyone has ever seen."
Both daughter Amy and David have witnessed and been inspired by that attitude in their family life with Linda and Joe. That life includes visits to their vacation home with boating, fishing and collecting shells. David's two daughters and Amy's two sons increase the level of activity.
As Linda contemplates her imminent retirement, high on the agenda is—yes—riding on the back of Joe's Harley. According to Joe, "She's an accomplished passenger, and we'll soon be taking off with another couple and touring the country for a few weeks." They've already previewed this adventure with a trip to Canada and back.
Community activities include occasional involvement with a Harley owners group and the Shrine.
Winning the Irma Award for Lifetime Achievement seems to be a fitting end to a career that has focused on service in any area where it is needed. And as Linda Gillespie remembers the person for whom the Lifetime Achievement Award is named, she says, "I am humbled to be chosen for an award named for such a marvelous person."
Rough Notes magazine is proud to join the Florida Association of Insurance Agents in presenting the award to Linda.
The Irma Platt Award is not limited to residents of Florida. Members of the insurance industry throughout the United States can nominate persons whom they deem deserving of the award, which is given only if there is a qualified candidate.
For more information or to receive a nomination form, contact Tom Cotton at email@example.com.
Alice Ashby Roettger is a freelance writer based Indianapolis, Indiana, and serves as an editorial assistant for Rough Notes magazine.