My Not-So-Secret Love
MY NOT-SO-SECRET LOVE (Pt 1 of 4)
While president of New York Life, I had the honor of serving on the boards of trustees of several industry-related associations and organizations. During my service as chairman of The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, God gave me the gift of developing a friendship—better described as a love affair—with Margaret Bradshaw. It was one I could not have anticipated would change my life in such a dramatic way.
Our budding relationship was not very secret; in fact, as it deepened through frequent subsequent meetings, I often publicly spoke of her. I talked about her in presentations to groups of employees and to large gatherings of agents at sales meetings and conventions. I even had New York Life publish an interview with her in our monthly newsletter.
I first met Margaret after she had made a substantial gift to The American College. Since she lived in an apartment on Park Avenue just a few blocks from our New York Life offices, the college development officer encouraged me to visit Margaret and personally express our gratitude for her generosity. I arranged to visit her on an early afternoon in August 2006.
It was an extremely hot summer day, and I’d suffered a particularly sleepless night followed by a morning filled with difficult business meetings. Frankly, I was not in the mood to make the visit. But I had committed to it in advance, so I gathered myself together and rang the bell. Her housekeeper escorted me to the living room where Margaret was comfortably seated, reading the newspaper.
Even though Margaret was a pioneer in our industry as the first female insurance agent for Boston’s John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, I knew she was retired and didn’t expect her to know much about recent events at New York Life. Was I ever wrong! To my surprise, she had done her research, not only on New York Life but on me. During that first visit, she respectfully addressed me as “Mr. Sievert.” She knew many details about the company’s sales growth, mentioned several key financial statistics, and congratulated me on both our well-conceived strategies and on my own personal career success.
I was also amazed at how much she knew about recent developments in the insurance industry and about local, state, and national politics. Clearly she read extensively; she actually embarrassed me several times by asking my views on thought-provoking issues with which I was totally unfamiliar.
But the most interesting discussion revolved around Margaret’s personal story—her historic involvement in the insurance industry and her extensive knowledge of American history. Margaret was only the fourth woman to become a licensed insurance agent in the United States, signing her first agent contract at the age of twenty-one. She had fascinating stories about her long career with John Hancock, including her efforts to break the gender barrier. All of that was incredibly interesting, but God had yet to reveal the most amazing thing about Margaret.
MY NOT-SO-SECRET LOVE (Pt 2 of 4)
Just two months before our initial meeting, Margaret had celebrated her 101st birthday! This articulate woman had nearly perfect recall of insurance industry milestones as well as historical events of the previous century. She read daily newspapers without the aid of eyeglasses, and her informed opinions were shaped and influenced by firsthand personal experiences.
During our first visit, she described the thick manual she was given to study after signing her first agent’s contract in 1926. To her great annoyance, the first page of the manual consisted of the company’s written charge that all agents shave every morning. She smiled brightly, recalling how she’d shared her misgivings with the president of John Hancock—who, thanks to her boldness, quickly ordered numerous gender-based changes to the manual.
I laughed and said, “Margaret, that language shouldn’t have surprised you. After all, it was only a few years after women’s suffrage.”
She responded, “You know, Mr. Sievert, I never really got into that movement. Those broads were too radical for me!” I later learned that although Margaret was a political conservative, she did indeed support women’s suffrage and other women’s rights issues. She then told me about a dinner meeting of the local agents’ association in Providence, Rhode Island, in the early 1930s. She was the first female president of the association, but was at that time still one of very few female members. Unfortunately, whoever planned the dinner event that year chose for the venue an exclusive men’s club that didn’t admit women. Not one to give up easily, Margaret essentially forced her way in by gaining support from many of the important male business leaders scheduled to attend the dinner. As a result, she was likely the first woman ever to be served a meal in that club and most certainly the first ever to preside over a business meeting there.
I had intended to spend five to ten minutes with Margaret on that first visit—but despite a full afternoon of scheduled meetings back at the office, I ended up staying for well over an hour. Time stood still for me during those first enchanting moments together in her living room. Before I left that day, Margaret insisted on giving me a framed picture of herself when she was in her late twenties. What a beautiful young lady, I thought. But even looking on her flawless youth, I couldn’t help but think how much more beautiful she was on that day in August 2006. Her beauty shone clearly in her zeal for life, her recollection of historical events, her joy in the retelling of her story, and in what she continued to accomplish through her philanthropic passions.
I arranged for another visit a couple of months later, and the things that transpired during that visit were orchestrated by God to set the stage for a unique and wonderful relationship.
MY NOT-SO-SECRET LOVE (Pt 3 of 4)
Our second visit revolved around events in American history. Margaret’s recollections and perspective were enthralling. Throughout the visit she talked a lot about her father, who owned a textile factory in Providence during World War I—and who refused to use the preferred German dyes because of Germany’s involvement in the war. She told me her father was a “real man.” To my delight and embarrassment, she later said quite emphatically, “I like real men, Mr. Sievert, and I can tell—you’re a real man.” From that point on, I insisted she call me Fred, and over the course of many more visits and phone calls, a unique and wonderful relationship developed.
On every call and visit, she told me how much she loved me, and I returned the sentiment. She always asked about school and what I was learning. Needless to say, she was very supportive of my decision to retire and go to divinity school and took an interest in my wife Sue’s culinary education. And, of course, she loved to discuss current events.
Margaret was a philanthropist who generously supported many worthy causes. Through her church, she funded the building of schools in India and many other projects both domestically and abroad. Her involvement in these projects has inspired me and reinforced my own interests in similar endeavors. It’s no coincidence that New York Life supported similar causes in Asia and that my own family has recently been discussing how to get more involved in such projects.
God indeed blessed me with this wonderful loving relationship. Through it, God has given me a new appreciation for life and the knowledge that much can be accomplished, even well after the comparatively young age of sixty-four. She may have been 101 when we met, but I couldn’t believe what Margaret still had left to accomplish—and what I didn’t find out about her until after she died.
MY NOT-SO-SECRET LOVE (Pt 4 of 4)
Two years after that initial meeting with Margaret, Sue and I traveled to Ireland for two weeks. A message we received in our hotel in Dublin was from Margaret, who had arranged for us to pick up a gift in a Dublin shop. I couldn’t even remember telling her about the trip, but at 102 she had remembered and tracked us down.
Sue and I spoke to Margaret on her 105th birthday on June 12, 2010. She expressed her love to both of us in her typical lucid and articulate fashion. During that call she ranted for some time about freewheeling government spending and the long-term consequences of the burgeoning national debt and annual deficits. Margaret was always thinking about the future and the longer-term implications of public policy.
I cherished every moment I spent with Margaret, and it was with sadness that I faced the reality that someday I would get a call to say she was gone. It’s an inevitable consequence for all of us. But what a wonderful life she lived, and what an inspiration she was to me and to Sue!
I often thanked God for showing me how someone Margaret’s age could touch the lives of so many. She certainly touched mine.
I received that unwelcome phone call when I was on a trip to Africa in 2011. Margaret died August 12 of that year at the age of 106. I was so grateful that I had spoken to her just before the trip and that I had enjoyed one last opportunity to tell her I loved her. I cherished her response when she said, as she had so many times, “I just love you and Sue so much.”
Margaret’s life was indeed a unique journey and a life to celebrate. And even though I knew about many of her philanthropic benevolences, I found out about one of her gifts only in a eulogy given at her funeral: Margaret read the newspaper daily and searched for people in the community who needed assistance. She then made anonymous gifts to ease their burdens.
Margaret Bradshaw was my not-so-secret-love. She still stands as an example to me of one who lived a unique life of incredible consequence and impact.
Comments from the Original Post
tv amr 10.26.14
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Phardra Pierce 9.3.12
Wow! Simply incredible I was very inspired by this. I pray that one day I can make an impact on the world like Margaret as well as yourself. It’s an honor to even be noticed on twitter. May God bless you and your family, Sincerely, Faith
Teresa E. Walker 8.17.12
I just discovered your site this morning by means of a small ad next to my Facebook page. When I saw the title, I had to see what it was all about, and I know it was “God ordained”. This is the first story I have read, and it touched me deeply. I see that I may also submit stories, and I thank you for that, you will hear from me, in the future sometimes. “His” love, and mine. Teresa
alta malone 8.8.12
I just want to say……I stand in awe at how god use people how he gives us a love that only knowing him you can experience. I am so glad she impacted your life. Our seniors have so much to offer they are so valueable. praise the LORD and thank you so much.
Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. Makes me so much more aware of those who have helped me grow spiritually. God Bless you. Sharon Ruth
Linda Quinlan 6.9.12
What a treasured gift you and Sue received in Margaret. You know that Alan and I have always loved you as well, and missed you when you left. It is wonderful to reconnect and to tell you that God was revealed through your kindness so many years before this site. As always, a friend & fan!! 😀
Ken Hower 5.30.12
What a beautiful and inspiring story about a remarkable woman! Kris and I always looked forward to your talks at each NYL Partners meeting, so when you retired, and then we retired, we thought it was over… and then you gave us this site. I get to pass it on to my new friends which is a great way to share about God. I don’t read it every day, but when I do, the story I choose (or does God choose it for me?!) speaks to me very deeply. Thanks so much, Ken and Kris Hower
Leeanne Waldie 5.13.12
Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.
Tip Cronin 5.11.12
Fred, I too had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Margaret. Yes indeed, she was a wonderful lady! I am still smiling after reading your four part article. Bravo
Wendy T. Wallace 5.8.12
What a beautiful 4 part story inspiring me to look forward to fulfilling dreams because of her example. Thank You Fred for telling her story to us!
Fred Sievert 5.1.12
Thank you Lula, Christine and Miroslav
Lula: Please consider submitting your own story by going to the “Readers Revelation” menu item either at the top of the homepage or on the right sidebar. I have received many wonderful reader stories and will post another this Thursday in the main home page window.
Lula Bolick 5.1.12
I absolutely love your blog and find the majority of your post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to produce content available for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing a article or elaborating on a lot of the themes you write in relation to here. Yet again, awesome site!
Christine K. Young 5.1.12
Such a wonderful story, such a beautiful lady Margaret from inside out.
Her story will touch many people. Her true story inspire many of us for many many years.
Miroslav Volf 4.30.12
Beautiful story of a deeply meaningful encounter and impactful life.
Bill Mahoney 4.22.12
Hi Fred…even though I’ve heard you tell this story before, it’s great you’re telling it again as it’s truly impactful!
Looking forward to installments two through four!
This sounds like a start to a beautiful story and how folks help shape our landscape of life. I look forward to reading the rest. Have a wonderful week and I pray that God keeps opening hearts through the words you share of your experiences. ~Erin Hurry