A centennial celebration

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Suffolk Insurance Corp. President H. Hunter Odom, Jr., gave a speech detailing Suffolk Insurance Corp’s history during the agency’s centennial celebration on Friday, Dec. 1

This November saw the centennial anniversary of a city staple. Suffolk Insurance Corporation, located at 202 Market St., recently celebrated 100 years of providing personal and commercial insurance to clients of Suffolk and the Hampton Roads area. 

Suffolk Insurance Corp. President H. Hunter Odom, Jr. and Executive Vice President Robert V. House, Jr. CIC talked about how the agency continues providing various insurance options to clients. They also touch upon the business’ origins and reflect on their younger selves before inheriting the family business. Representing over 100 insurance companies, Odom says he and his team see Suffolk Insurance Corp as a “generalist type of insurance agency.”

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“We do a little bit of all of it. We have personal lines, which is your home, your automobile insurance boats, RVs, personal [liability] umbrellas, personal article floaters. We offer all of those lines of business. We also offer commercial insurance, which is your business insurance and commercial automobile, commercial property, workers’ compensation — all these types of insurances for businesses,” Odom said. “We also do life and health, both individual and business, like health insurance, long-term care, Medicare products, so we offer a little bit of a broad spectrum.”

On some ways of guiding new clients looking for the right insurance, Odom stressed the importance of providing one-on-one relationships to assist clients properly.

“We’ve always had sort of a word-of-mouth type of relationship, and I think people found out about us through other people that have done this with us over the years,” Odom said. “As far as different ways, we like face-to-face. We still have people that answer the phone. We’re not a recording-based type of agency. And it’s all dealt with personal relationships, pretty much. One-on-one, trying to listen to our customers [in] what it is that they’re looking for so that we can provide them the best insurance solution that we can find for them based on their particular situation, what their needs are, what they’re looking for.”

House expressed the SIC’s focus on people despite technology’s continued rise.

“We’re certainly well involved with social media like everyone has to be, but we do like to say we’re still a people business and people can talk to us and meet with us and we’d like to build relationships like that, that lasts a long time,” House said.

History of Suffolk Insurance Corporation

Originally starting at the American Bank and Trust Company building on Main Street, Suffolk Insurance Corp hasn’t ventured too far off, now a block away today at 202 Market St. Incorporated in Nov. 1923 by J.M. Butler, R.B. Hill, B.E. Parker, SIC saw over 14 original stockholders, with some prominent names to the city’s legacy.

“Godwin, Johnson, Parker, Holland, Amedeo Obici was actually one of our original stockholders, the founder of Planters Peanuts. He was one of our original stockholders,” Odom said. “We had T.H. Birdsong was one of those, as well as W.T. Pond and James McLemore. All these are prominent Suffolk last names of people that lived here at the time.”

The agency saw a few changes during its early days: Suffolk Insurance Corp’s name was changed to Suffolk Insurance and Finance Corp in 1928. That same year, Taylor Darden (also the father of Odom’s father-in-law) became a stockholder and, in 1930, became manager for SIC. Odom also talked about how the agency bought out another insurance agency named Weston Withers in 1947.

“Not sure how long they had been in existence, Mr. Taylor Darden and Mr. Flintoff bought out all of the prior stockholders, and that was a condition of the merger of Western Withers Insurance and Suffolk Insurance Corporation. At that point, the name changed back to Suffolk Insurance, which is pretty interesting,” Odom said. “With that came access to one of our major insurance carriers that we represent now, which is Mutual Insurance Society of Virginia.”

SIC merged with the American Bank and Trust Companies Insurance Department in 1962. Darden’s son, Austin, bought into the business in 1965, with Odom’s father buying into the business a year later. The business saw additional stockholders with Joyce D. Underwood of Underwood Insurance in 1969 after his company merged with SIC. In 1973, John R. Ellison III became a stockholder, and in 1981, Bobby House (House’s father) became a stockholder alongside James Patton. In 1991, Odom himself became part of the ownership. 

“In 1998, Rob’s father and I bought out the remaining stockholders at the time, and then in 2011, we merged with J. Walter Hosier Insurance, which is what’s on Washington Street,” Odom said. “Kent Spain was the only owner of J. Walter Hosier at the time and then he became part of Suffolk Insurance at that point. In 2008, Rob became an owner, and Mr. Spain retired this past year. Now, the two of us are the remaining owners at this point.”

Looking back at their younger years

Odom and House reflected on their younger years before their work with SIC and following their fathers’ footsteps. House says that he visited SIC and participated in events during high school but says he wasn’t sure of his career goals after graduating from college.

“I did in Richmond, Virginia, work for an insurance related company for four or five years, and then the opportunity came here when I was 25, and it seemed good,” House said. “I certainly knew the partners here well, including Hunter who was closer to my age and I had a lot of respect for. So, along with my father and Hunter, I was happy to come and work here.” 

For Odom, it was a similar experience. As he participated in events, delivered calendars, and took pictures of homes as a child, Odom says he never considered returning to SIC until after finishing school. 

“And when I started looking for jobs, I had an offer from United Virginia Bank and an offer from a life insurance company in Richmond. I think I chose that simply because I thought maybe if I did well, I wouldn’t be rewarded sooner than maybe working with a bank. But I didn’t really think about it,” Odom said. “I did marry one of the owner’s daughters, so I had the benefit of working for not only my father but also my father-in-law here. So it was a pretty natural fit.”

Odom continued detailing how he views the agency as a “family agency.”

“My father-in-law’s father was Taylor Darden, who started back in 1928. And then his sons started, in which I married Austin Darden’s daughter. Then I started, and my father was working here. Rob started after his father [was] working here. So it’s a lot of family ties through the agency over the years, and I think that has contributed to the longevity of our business,” Odom said.

On what they would like readers and the Suffolk community to know, Odom emphasized how much they enjoyed serving their community throughout the years.

“I look back on the years and the people that have worked here. They’ve always been community leaders and helped participate in the community. Different aspects of the community with being on different boards and participating in supporting local businesses,” Odom said. “We try to support all of our local businesses in their endeavors.”

House likewise expressed how much they enjoy serving clients of the community.

“We’ve always been a part of this community. We have clients that are part of this community [that] we’ve gotten to know [and] we enjoyed working with in business and in personal lives. So that’s been a big part of it,” House said. “We’re just going to keep right on going and hope things stay well.”

For more information, go to suffolkinsurance.com or call 757-539-9988.