Before Euletta Gordon-Campbell became a partner at New York Life's South Jersey General Office, she was an agent with a firm belief in promises. "When I sold a policy, it was much more than a piece of paper, it's a promise—a promise to be there for my client and their family. And that promise doesn't just end at delivering the death benefit," she says, firmly. In fact, with one extraordinary client, delivering the death benefit was just the beginning.
Gordon-Campbell met Dr. Effiong Utuk towards the beginning of her career. "When I first started out as an agent, I spent a lot of time conducting seminars," she says. "I went into my local library to see if I could hold one there and met Dr. Utuk, the head librarian. I explained my role as an agent and my desire to educate the public through seminars. After multiple consultations, he allowed me to conduct seminars at the library."
A hard sell.
"As time went on, I tried to talk to Dr. Utuk on a personal level and received the classic deflection. He refused a meeting with his wife because he noted she has no interest in this stuff, meaning insurance and business-related issues. I got his attention during a seminar where I discussed non-traditional uses for life insurance; these concepts really got his attention, although he still wasn't interested in becoming a client," laughs Gordon-Campbell.
Eventually Dr. Utuk called to set up an appointment. "I was greeted by a desk with mounds of printed pages from the Internet—information I had supplied, all with colored highlights mostly of the fine print on material I had presented to him." She recalls, chuckling, "He had several questions related to that fine print—lucky for me, I was able to answer all his questions. In the end, he made the decision to purchase a whole life policy. I remember him signing the papers, putting them carefully into his drawer, and sitting back in his chair, satisfied."
A friendship emerges.
Gordon-Campbell continues, "We eventually became good friends, speaking on the phone often and occasionally having lunch. Dr. Utuk was a very nurturing individual who had an interest in improving lives. We had a mutual interest in each other's families and shared stories. He eventually told me more about his wife and children. They met back in their native home, Nigeria, were very closely connected—very much in love—and shared a great respect for each other. Even their names were similar: his name was Effiong and hers was Affiong.
"I met three of his four children and again asked to be introduced to his wife, but he repeatedly said no," says Gordon-Campbell. Nigeria is a very patriarchal society—very male-dominated. Traditionally, the man takes care of the finances and is the primary breadwinner. It was interesting, she muses, that although Dr. Utuk had a PhD from Princeton, he was proud to allow his wife to take a leadership role in the economics, setting aside potentially high earnings opportunities, to focus his attention on the children and their development.
"As a nurse anesthetist, Mrs. Utuk is very much a modern woman. According to him, she made it very clear before they married that she wanted a career beyond a mother and wife—she later confirmed this position. But even still, she deferred to him on the financial decisions."
A sudden loss.
"One morning, I called Dr. Utuk at home and was surprised when he answered," Gordon-Campbell says, thoughtfully. "I teased him, saying, 'You slacker, why arent you at work?' He said his allergies had been bothering him, and he'd be seeing his doctor about it later that day. One day I came home to a call from his son, telling me that Dr. Utuk had died that same day. I couldn't believe it. My God! I thought. My heart was racing. I knew his son but not his wife. My mind was filled with questions. What would I say to her? Did I sell him the right amount of coverage? Will she be angry that I didn't consult with her? And on and on."
Just the beginning.
"I finally got a hold of myself and was able to set aside the physical and emotional pain I was feeling. I gave the son my address and told him to come over with his mother. I finally met his wife, Affiong, under the worst of circumstances," says Gordon-Campbell. "I had an opportunity to build a relationship and provide the help I know she needed; because her husband had always taken care of the finances, I had to be prepared.
"When we had a chance to sit together we just talked—I let her set the tone and we got a chance to know each other. She was in pain and who better to help her? I helped her organize her papers—it became almost a weekend ritual. I would go to her house, go through the mail with her and help her organize her important items. I recommended that she connect with an attorney and an accountant. Through all this, she has become not only a client, but a good friend as well."
Gordon-Campbell continues, "We still meet quarterly or when she has questions about certain items—financial matters and things—she makes a note on it that says, Check with Euletta," she laughs.
"I think personally delivering death benefits is very important for agents to do. It's a new beginning, like with Dr. Utuk. New York Life makes a promise to be there for our policyholders and I do too."