Monday, August 20, 2012

George Fabe. RIP. 1921 --- 2012

George Fabe was a building contractor in Cincinnati.  For eight years, George was Director of the Ohio Department of Insurance for Governor Dick Celeste. 

George died July 28 and a memorial service was held last Saturday at Cincinnati’s University Club.

About one hundred twenty five guests attended the memorial. Six speakers painted  word-portraits of a loving, attentive father, successful builder and active citizen

All of the speakers mentioned George’s public service at the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Eight grandchildren offered their recollections of George.  One grandson remarked, to appreciative laughter of the audience, “Grandpa always asked me ‘do you need money?’and I always said ‘Sure.’

I worked for George for almost eight years, all but the first ninety days of his appointment.  From my vantage point, I witnessed George lead projects that modernized the insurance department, expanded its staff and restruck the balance of regulation to protect policyholders and company solvency. 

At the end of his eight year tenure, George had built a regulatory institution with modern legal authorities and a staff large enough to respond effectively to an aggressive financial industry. 

Including myself, only three people from Columbus attended the memorial.  The other two central Ohio residents in attendance were Egle Gatins, an artist and Neil Rector, a regulatory consultant who had been George’s deputy. 

I didn’t recognize anyone from the insurance industry in attendance. In a poignant way, that fact alone is a tribute to the man.

A memorial program was distributed at the University Club.  A photo of George, in one of his usual Brooks Brothers suits and striped ties was on the program cover.  A slide show of color photos, confirmed what I had guessed when I first looked at the program cover.  The necktie was blue and maize.  I said to myself “I know that tie” and therein lies a story about George’s relationship with the insurance industry.

One of the insurance industry’s antagonists to George and his department was a partner at the Bricker law firm.  Although George and that particular lawyer disagreed on virtually everything, they maintained apparently cordial relations.  No.  “Cordial” is too positive..  George was civil to the attorney.  Their paths crossed regularly at the Statehouse when they offered testimony on proposed insurance legislation.  While their paths crossed regularly, George and the lawyer never had crossed swords in a public venue. 

Then one day at the House insurance committee, all decorum was abandoned.  George and the lawyer started shouting abuse at one another which quickly descended into raw name-calling.   

Who remembers what they were fighting about and who started the fight?   

The committee chairman was Representative Mike Stinziano.  He used his gavel effectively and the two men stopped their name-calling.  An awkward silence filled the committee room. 

Chairman Stinziano broke the silence with a statement that “Well gentlemen, I think we all know that you disagree about a lot of matters, but it is quite apparent to me that you agree on one thing.” 

George and the lawyer looked perplexed and waited quietly for the chairman to explain. 

Chairman Stinziano said “You share the same taste in neckties.” 

George and the lawyer were wearing identical neckties.

I learned about the story from a friendly lobbyist who called me almost immediately after the fight.  Good stories like this one are welcomed in government offices.  When the lobbyist finished, I went to Neil Rector, George’s deputy to tell him the story.  But the deputy had just heard the same story from another lobbyist.

But the identical neckties that these two men wore were not blue and maize.  That is the rest of the story.   

Neil and I decided that the likelihood was that neither George nor the lawyer would wear their ties again.  Perhaps  we should buy new neckties for the men.  New duplicate neckties.  I drove to Woodhouse Lynch and bought two identical blue and maize neckties.  Woodhouse clerk wrapped the ties in separate gift boxes.   Neil reimbursed me for half of the price.  He did complain about the price but in the end he gave in and willingly paid his half.

I delivered one of the gift boxes to the Bricker firm with a note to the lawyer that I was certain that he had already tossed his other tie into the waste basket and might be in need of a replacement.  I never got a thank you note from the lawyer.

Neil gave the second gift box to George who wore the necktie as a combat survivor’s badge.

Neil and I waited patiently for George and the Bricker lawyer to meet unsuspectingly wearing identical ties again. 

I don’t know if that ever happened.  At some point we told George about our prank.  He was amused. 

And, that is the story of the blue and maize tie that George is wearing in the photograph.

Happy trails, George.  You are missed.

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