Opinion | Like Grandfather, Like Grandson

By: | April 9, 2023

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected].

The information came to me during a self-indulgent, albeit brief, work-avoiding Google search. I was looking for another relative, but then suddenly, there it was. It was a PDF of an excerpt from the 1940 Federal Census.

The highlighted subject of the document, one James R. Reynolds was born in 1898 and resided at 311 N. Maple Avenue, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. I knew immediately from the address and the names of his children and wife that the document listed my paternal grandfather, then aged 42.

By 1958 he would be dead, felled by stomach cancer. I was born in 1960, so I never knew him.

But there was another entry on the document. In my initial scan I saw the professions of others listed, but not his. And then there it was, in that neat, slanting cursive people mastered in those days: “Occupation: Ins. Agent, Industry: Life Ins. Co.”

The entry struck me, not so much like a lightning bolt, but it struck me and drew emotion.

I’d heard the stories that he was in some type of sales and was known to accept spaghetti sauce recipes instead of cash payments from some of the poorer miners and mill workers of western Pennsylvania.

But the insurance piece was vague or handled lightly in any retellings.

I knew I’d inherited his jawline and wavy hair. But it never became fact for me, before that moment, that we ended up working in the same industry.

So Grandpa Reynolds, if you’re reading this, let’s celebrate this unintended facet of my inheritance. If I could ever see it, I’d treasure having a copy of one of those spaghetti sauce recipes you once took in place of premium payments. &

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