Gilbert’s Passions were Organization, Work, Family

By Don Jergler | February 22, 2013

Roger W. Gilbert was a big player in Southern California’s insurance market, he was active in insurance charities and other causes, and those who knew him recalled him as having a passion for organization, work and family.

The Newport Beach, Calif. resident was a former deputy insurance commissioner for California, he chaired the Insurance Standards Office board, and was actively involved in several charitable organizations, which led him in 1992 to receive the Spirit of Life Award from the City of Hope.  The award recognizes individuals for outstanding leadership and contributions to philanthropy.

Gilbert died on Feb. 12 at age 80 from respiratory complications, and services were held on Feb. 19 at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona Del Mar.

“Quietly he was a great mentor,” said Bill Hossfeld, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa, who served with Gilbert on the club’s board since 2005.

Even those who knew him well couldn’t put a finger on what exactly it was that drove Hossfeld or what one thing typified the man. Though most agreed that Gilbert, who started out his career as an underwriter in San Francisco in 1955, had a passion for organization.

“He has a way about him,” said Hossfeld, who referred to Gilbert at times in past tense and then as if though he were still alive. “He likes good organization.”

Roger W. Gilbert

Roger W. Gilbert, former president of Great American West.

Jocelyn Gilbert, his wife, even had trouble saying just what drove her husband, though she agreed with Hossfeld’s assessment about Gilbert’s penchant for organizing.

“It’s hard to say,” she said. “He was so organized. Family came first, but he was dedicated to his work.”

The two met at the University of California Berkeley at a fraternity and sorority mixer as freshmen in 1949, and were married in 1953. Gilbert earned a B.S. degree in business administration from the university.

While at Berkeley Gilbert joined the ROTC, later enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in command of troops training on 8 in. howitzers. He rose to the rank of captain.

After leaving the Army and in tow with their first son, Michael Whitney, the Gilberts moved back to California. Gilbert followed his father’s career footsteps into the insurance business. His father, Al W. Gilbert, was well known in the industry, at one point heading up the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau.

Gilbert went to work for Great American Insurance Co., and the couple added two more children to their family, Bradley Paul and Cynthia Ann. He rose in the ranks of Great American, eventually serving as president of Great American West from 1983 until he retired in 1988. Gilbert also served on the ISO board of directors in the mid-1980s, and was chairman of the board in 1987 and 1988, according to ISO records.

After retiring from Great American Gilbert was made a deputy insurance commissioner by Roxani Gillespi, California’s last appointed insurance commissioner. Following that stint he focused his time on nonprofit causes. Gilbert had joined the Newport-Balboa Rotary Club in 1984. He served several years on the board of directors, and as president, eventually earning Rotarian of the year in 1992-93.

“Roger always believed that life had been good to him,” Gilbert said of her husband’s volunteer and community work. “He wanted to give back to the community. He never took a stipend for any of his volunteer work.”

Outside of Rotary Gilbert’s next biggest focus was with the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group, which provides liability insurance for nonprofits. From 1998 until he died, Gilbert served as a volunteer board member and audit chairman of the organization.

“That was the love of his life in his retirement,” Gilbert said of her husband’s work with the group.

Gilbert also spent his post-retirement free time building up the Fraternity Risk Management Trust, which was formed in 1996 in Hamilton, Bermuda as a reinsurance company owned by 12 national college fraternities. It has since grown to nearly 30 members.

Gilbert is survived by his wife, three children and seven grandchildren.

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