Friday, November 19th, 2010
“My family goes back in this area a number of generations. My grandparents on my father’s side moved here from Mississippi in 1934. My grandfather was a general agent for a life insurance company called Home Life. When they asked him where he would like to relocate to take over a general agency, he chose Washington. It seemed like a nice fit for him because he lived through the Depression in Mississippi and thought there would be some insulation here from those kind of woes. He settled here and my father was born two years later and raised outside of the city.
“In 1968, my parents moved into the city, to a house in Wesley Heights, which is by the Cathedral. I was born two years later at Georgetown University Hospital. People always say that D.C. is a small town. If you need an example of that, my father-in-law grew up in the same house that I grew up in on Lowell Street. His father built the house and then moved his family out to Virginia. My parents bought it from the people they sold it to.
“I grew up in that house and attended the Norwood school and then went to St. Albans at the Cathedral. My father went to St. Albans as did my uncle and two cousins. When I graduated, I went to the University of Denver for two main reasons. The first was because I wanted to ski. The second was because they accepted me. In Denver, I got bitten by the political bug and majored in political science and public policy. I worked for a candidate out there and would have followed him to the Senate had he been elected, but we didn’t win. Still, I made it back to Washington because while I liked Denver and the mountains, D.C. was home and all of my family is here. Plus, we don’t charge for museums.
“When I came back after a three month road trip to the pacific northwest, I worked in a combination of jobs, mostly campaign related and journalism. At the end of the 1994 election, I was 25 and decided that I couldn’t work in politics any more. I looked ahead and didn’t want to wake up at 35 doing the same things I was doing at 25. I thought that the partisanship was unproductive. It seemed like most people in politics spent vast amounts of time simply hating the other party for the sole reason that they are the other party. I also didn’t see other people living the lifestyle I wanted to live. There were a lot of divorces and burning the midnight oil for ten months a year. That didn’t appeal to me. For me, if you are going to be in politics, you should just be the candidate. At 25, that didn’t appeal to me either.
“I looked around for other work and decided to join my father in the life insurance business. He had followed his father into the life insurance business, as well. While D.C. will always be thought of as a political town, there are a number of family businesses that were born here and are now being run by the 2nd or 3rd generations. Businesses like Marriot and Kiplinger are home grown and have been in the family for generations. Our life insurance business is also like that. That is an aspect of the city that sometimes gets forgotten, but I would encourage people to read about it because there are some wonderful business stories in this town.
“I grew up watching my Dad work and hearing his stories. One of the things that always stood out for me was how no matter what was happening with work, he was always at my ballgames and other activities. He was a big part of my life and that was very important to me. When I had kids, I wanted to do the same for them. Fortunately, my job allows me that same freedom with my family, and to also be active in the community. My father was well thought of and active in the community and I try to do the same. I balance my time between being on the boards of a number of local organizations and working at the grass roots level. For me, service and making this city better, in addition to being a part of our business community, has and remains an important part of my family’s legacy in Washington.”
Hear some great D.C. business stories from people like Cathy Merrill Williams, President and Publisher of the Washingtonian, and Austin H. Kiplinger, Editor emeritus of The Kiplinger Letter, on Vernon’s website.