Having launched Siegel Insurance in 1964, Jerry Siegel never officially retired; in fact, he held the seventeenth oldest active insurance license in the State of Georgia when he last renewed it. His longevity is a testament to how he conducted business: Jerry focused on forging relationships as opposed to selling policies.
He loved the insurance business, and despite personal circumstances that would have made others feel as though the world owed them something, Jerry not only took responsibility for his own life, but he endeavored to help others. A Depression-era baby born in 1932, he was only two years old when his father died of a bleeding ulcer. Consequently, Jerry’s mother, who suffered with epilepsy, moved with her son from California to Atlanta to be near her family. She remarried Max Siegel who died when Jerry was just 17. Forced to grow up quickly, he began working fulltime in his uncle’s insurance agency from the day he graduated Grady High School.
Over the years, Jerry earned the admiration of countless friends—including insurance company representatives, competitors, employees and clients—who valued his judgment, integrity, generosity, and great sense of humor. As one industry friend wrote, “[Jerry] was one of my favorite agents to underwrite business with, going back to my early days. He always knew his accounts intimately, wanted the best for his clients, and kept business fun. There wasn't anything I wouldn't do for that man. Our industry is losing a legend.” Echoing those sentiments, others described him as a “straight-talking” and “tell-it-like-it-is professional” who could respectfully disagree and then present his views in ways that won over his opponents. Jerry, nevertheless, did not see himself as a “legend,” but rather as a caring person who aimed to do what was right.
Although he worked tirelessly as an independent insurance agent, Jerry enriched his life through his ties to family, friends and community. His family, above all, meant the world to him. Jerry and Bootsie, his wife of forty years whom he met on a blind date, were the proud parents of Andy, Michael and Adele, and seven grandchildren. Sadly, Bootsie lost a battle with cancer in 2000. Three years later, Jerry married Rita Hader and welcomed her three children and their spouses, plus three grandchildren, to the Siegel family.
As the patriarch of a home filled with activity and laughter, Jerry loved celebrations. His humor surfaced in Blazing Saddles and Henny Youngman jokes. When it came to food, Jerry had eclectic tastes. The Waffle House, Old Hickory House, Flemings Steakhouse, and The Varsity were among his favorite restaurants, so it wasn’t unusual for a holiday meal to include such unlikely combinations as latkes and ribs.
In addition to his eclectic palate, Jerry, a modern-day Renaissance man, acquired a wide range of interests, including African violets, miniature trains, classical music, travel, racquetball and golf. Amusingly, he and a friend would gather golf balls stranded in the woods alongside their favorite courses, sell them, and add the few extra dollars to their vacation fund. Proceeds from selling their recycled golf balls couldn’t have paid for much, as Jerry ventured with family and friends to places like Israel, the South of France, Spain, Morocco, Peru, Bolivia, Equador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Tahiti. On one Jewish Federation-sponsored trip to Israel, his group took a day excursion to Egypt. Cautioned to leave their Jewish identifications behind, Jerry and a friend both wrote “Bubba” on their nametags. From that point on, the two fondly retained the nickname for one another.
Kidding aside, Jerry was seriously committed to charitable causes, and he generously gave of his time and money. In his younger days, he was a member of the Atlanta Jaycees, but the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and, most especially, Greenfield Hebrew Academy in Atlanta were dearest to him. All three Siegel children attended Greenfield Hebrew Academy (GHA) for which Jerry served as President, Vice President, and Treasurer of the Board of Trustees. He was also a member of the school’s Scholarship Committee for thirty-one years, eighteen of which he chaired. A champion of education, Jerry took on the job of developing a fair formula that Jewish Federation would apply in allocating money to Atlanta’s Jewish day schools. Both Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Jewish Federation have honored Jerry as a Lifetime Trustee.
While giving him the highest accolades for the responsibilities he so willingly shouldered, those who knew Jerry agree that he remained a big kid at heart. From the time he was initially diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2000, Jerry never appeared grim or concerned. Continuing to do everything he enjoyed when it resurfaced in his lungs and brain, Jerry endured his treatments and prognoses in stride, complaining only that the MRI machine was too loud. Even in his final days, he told corny jokes to provoke laughs and seemed oblivious to dying.
When he passed away in September of 2012, a longtime friend expressed, “They say true success is to leave this world better than when you came into [it]. Jerry Siegel was a true success.”