We are Men and Women for Others: a Legacy of Giving
February 08, 2018
Author: Phil Dignan
James J. Maguire, H-'17, and Frances Maguire, while living in a third-floorwalk-up apartment in Philadelphia, met Victor and Helen Saggase, a deaf couple living one floor below.
"The first time we passed them, we nodded at them, but they did not acknowledge us," said James. "Several weeks later, we were coming up the steps. Somebody rang the doorbell, and the lights started to blink. That is when we realized they were deaf."
It did not take long for the Maguires to connect with the Saggases. James would first go down and visit, communicating by writing back and forth to each other and playing games like tic-tac-toe. Gradually, he began to pick up sign language, first learning the alphabet then learning signs.
From this friendship came a devotion to the deaf community, and in 2015 the establishment of the Maguire Academy of Insurance and Risk Management at Gallaudet, which offers a B.S. in Insurance and Risk Management.
Victor, knowing that James was selling life insurance, explained that the deaf community was not able to receive standard policy rates.
"I went to Metropolitan Life and talked to them," said James. "I said that it seems unfair, and that we should try to underwrite for deaf clients on a standard basis. One thing leads to another-I captured the deaf community for insurance, mainly because no one else was talking to them."
Along with developing a strong deaf clientele, James began to associate more with the deaf community, including Thursday night bowling.
"I could not communicate with them fully, but I sure could bowl with them."
On one Sunday evening, Victor invited James to attend a deaf community church in New Jersey. There, the pastor introduced James to those in attendance-Victor passed out business cards.
"I collected 30 or 40 names of those that wanted me to visit," said James. "Later, when I went into the property and casualty business, I already had my customer base. It was an incredible experience-I was embraced by them."
James stayed with Metropolitan Life for 18 months before creating his own insurance business.
"I said to myself, why can't I find other groups like the deaf community, those that have a need. Specialized, homogeneous groups where we could provide a service. And that is how I built my company."
James established the headquarter of Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), which in 58 years has become a $4 billion-dollar company with over 2,000 employees and 50 offices across the country.
In October of 2000, James and Frances created the Maguire Foundation.
His philanthropy with the deaf community began when he started a scholarship program for students at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia in 2008. The Maguire Scholars Program eventually expanded, offering scholarships to students at 40 high schools, both Catholic and private. Thirty universities were added to the program, including Gallaudet. Gallaudet has on average 12-15 scholars and 9 RMI scholars.
Jesuit educated, he explained that the focus of teaching at St. Joseph's is that "we are men and women for others."
"I came out of St. Joe's realizing that it wasn't all about me or about success and financial gain. It is important to know that I must give back. And what a great way to give back."
Graduating from St. Joseph's in 1958, James gave back to his alma mater 11 years ago as the foundation established the university's first-ever RMI program.
"It is now the number one insurance and risk management program in America," said Maguire.
Of the 400 recent graduates at St. Joseph's, all were either hired by the insurance industry or entered graduate school. Maguire envisioned that similar success could happen at Gallaudet. After six months of meetings between representatives from Gallaudet and St. Joseph's, an insurance program started.
The Maguire Foundation gave $500,000 to bring in an executive director, James Bruner, to jumpstart the program. Timing could not be better, as the insurance and risk management job market expects a void to fill-25 percent of the work force expects to retire within the next few years.
A support system is in place to help Gallaudet's Insurance program become one of the nation's best.
"The St. Joseph's program is making sure that Gallaudet has what it needs to prepare students, said Maguire. "At St. Joseph's, it took us five years to get to the level that Gallaudet is today. I envision insurance companies across the United States recruiting at Gallaudet for their insurance graduates."
James has embraced the support of President Roberta J. Cordano and the Gallaudet administration. This relationship is the latest of a 60-year plus connection with the deaf community, and his family is committed to continuing this legacy.
"They became part of our life," said Maguire. "We look back at the friendships we have created, and the deaf community are a big part of that. Frannie has been in lockstep with everything I have done with building my business and being with the deaf community. She gravitated to the deaf community with me.
"She couldn't throw a bowling ball five feet until we started bowling with them on Thursday nights."
Their daughter Megan and son Jamie Jr. are both on the Gallaudet Insurance board. Jamie Jr., who is chairman of PHLY, has hugely supported the deaf community's involvement in insurance and risk management.
"The industry is just waking up to the fact that we can hire deaf people," said James. "Having deaf people in the industry creates an opportunity for the hearing community to interact with them. That is one of the real values I see."
James J. Maguire and Roberta J. Cordano during the president's installation luncheon on September 30, 2016.
James J. Maguire gives a commencement address during the 147th Commencement Ceremony on May 12, 2017. Maguire, a co-speaker during commencement, earned an honorary Doctor of Business degree from Gallaudet.
Photos by Zhee Chatmon.