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Family-owned Brownrigg Insurance longtime Marshall community fixture

By Robin Y. Richardson
March 12, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Dennis Rhoades, left, a vice president at Brownrigg Insurance Agency, stands with his father, Les Rhoades, president and CEO of the fifth-generation owned firm.

For nearly a century, Brownrigg Insurance Agency has remained a mainstay in Marshall's community, meeting any and all insurance needs.

"We're an independent insurance agency, so we've got a lot of different companies and we represent almost all the major insurance carriers," said Les Rhoades, president and CEO of the fifth-generation family-owned company.

"We're kind of broken down into three parts," he said of their offerings.

The company's personal lines department handles coverage for auto, homeowners, boats, motor homes and more - "anything you could think of that would be personal insurance," Rhoades said.

The commercial lines department insures businesses such as manufacturers, retailers and restaurants.

"It's just about anything you can think of - (even) airplanes," said Rhoades.

The firm also offers life and health insurance, including Medicare supplements, to further accommodate patrons' needs.

"We still try to do health insurance as hard as it is to do right now," said Rhoades. "We felt like that's a service to the community that we owe and also owe to our personal lines clients or our commercial lines clients. If they need health insurance, we can try to help them with it."

Historic recap

Brownrigg Insurance was founded in Marshall by Rhoades' great-grandfather, John Brownrigg, in 1922. The firm is unique as it owns several other agencies that also boast rich legacies.

"In the early '90s, we merged with a Jefferson insurance agency, the Jones Insurance Agency. It was founded in 1886," said Rhoades.

Another company that Brownrigg acquired, Hartford Insurance, has been in its Jefferson office since 1886.

"Our partner in Jefferson is (executive vice president) Victor Perot, so we have an office in Jefferson with Victor and three other people," said Rhoades.

The Marshall office boasts 18 employees, including Rhoades, his older son Dennis and his youngest son Patrick, who are both vice presidents.

"We have the oldest plant in Texas with Hartford," Dennis said.

The services

Brownrigg, renowned as one of the oldest insurance agencies in East Texas, prides itself on the various products it offers as a leading full-service independent insurance agency, benefiting clients worldwide.

"We're probably licensed in about 18 states and so we have accounts that are maybe headquartered here and have other locations in other states. So, over the years we've had different accounts," said Rhoades. "We had one account that had (about) 90 locations in about 10 states and we've had manufacturing accounts that are in different places over the years."

Being able to continue the family-owned business his great grandfather started has been rewarding.

"I've been in the business 45 years," said Rhoades.

"I came in with my father and my uncle in 1971 out of college," he said, noting his father is the late Earl Rhoades Jr. and his uncle is W.K. "Pat" Furrh Jr., who is now retired. The two took over the family business in the '60s.

"Since then Dennis has come in and Patrick," Rhoades said, noting Dennis joined him at the firm in 1994, and Patrick came in April 2009.

His sons are glad to be a part of the fifth-generation owned business, helping their father continue to carry on the torch.

"It's some big shoes (to fill)," Dennis said.

Giving back

In addition to valuing their clients, Brownrigg also values its community.

"We have always tried to be active in the community and be on committees or be in the Chamber (of Commerce)," Rhoades added, noting six of the Marshall firm's employees have completed the Leadership Marshall Program through the Greater Marshall Chamber of Commerce.

And when Marshall's hospital was being constructed, Brownrigg did its part to support the cause.

"We make donations to the school projects, (such as) the (Marshall Education) Foundation," Rhoades said. "A lot of things we try to put money back into the community, obviously, with the profits that we have in the business."

John Brownrigg, the pillar of the family business, was also active in the community, serving as the secretary treasurer of the historic Masonic Lodge in Marshall. Like the late patriarch, the firm's employees stay busy serving not only their customers but the community.

"Our staff is the heart and soul of this agency," said Rhoades. "It's like a family and Stacy Adair (vice president of operations and a part owner) has been here 25 years and we've got several ladies with 20 years and 15, and they not only have made this a great business but they also have been involved in the community themselves."

He said Christy Godwin, personal lines manager, for example, has served on both the Chamber board and Marshall ISD's school foundation board.

"She has volunteered to do many things in the community," said Rhoades. "We have several other employees in here that help with Wonderland of Lights.

"They volunteer for a lot of things that help our community and we feel like that's something that's part of giving back to the community."

The community has also been there for the insurance agency. In 2000 following a fierce ice storm, Brownrigg lost its former building on East Austin Street after repairs to the roof caught it on fire.

"That was one of our largest challenges over the time I've been here because a month and a half before that, on Easter Sunday in 2000, we had probably the largest hail storm tornado in Marshall," Rhoades recalled.

The agency was handling large claims, including for the former Dominos Pizza building, while also trying to recover from the storm itself.

"We were processing claims and handling this. And we had a roofer repairing our roof from hail damage and it caught the building on fire, so everybody pitched in," Rhoades said, remembering the community's generosity.

"You would not believe how many people that are friends of ours that showed up on Saturday morning with pickups and trailers," he recalled.

"It was very humbling. (They) came together and we got a temporary building and we were back open for business on Monday morning."

The agency went on to buy the property at its current location, 303 West Austin Street.

"It took us seven months to adapt this property to a business office," Rhoades said, noting they've been at the former grocery store structure since Jan. 1, 2001.

A labor of love

Rhoades said he appreciates their employees, who have made great careers at the company.

"The average tenure of the employees is 10 to 15 years," said Dennis.

The company is proud to be a part of the community.

"We may be a sales operation, but I think we're more of a service operation," Rhoades said of the firm.

"A lot of our clients we've had for many years and we try to provide good service to them," he added.

"Selling the insurance is sort of the easy part, but when they have a problem with the insurance or they have a claim, we try to hold their hand and make sure they get the results they were expecting from getting their claim handled properly."

Looking towards the future, Rhoades said they hope to continue to grow their business with more successful mergers.

"Right now, I would say, over the years we have merged other agencies and I'd say a dozen agencies over the last 45 years that we've merged in with us - people that were retiring or people that want to get out of the insurance business, so we bought them or merged them into Brownrigg," Rhoades said.

"I would say we're always looking for quality agencies that we might acquire."

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