By Philip Walzer
Leo V. Schocklin Sr. was born the day State Farm Insurance was incorporated - March 29, 1922. He didn't know it then, but their lives would intertwine for more than 55 years.
First came Schocklin's childhood in New Jersey, his World War II service (surviving a torpedo attack while aboard the destroyer Kearny) and his initial insurance job with Prudential.
Schocklin switched to State Farm in 1956, eager to sell more than life insurance. He opened an office on High Street near Frederick Boulevard. His son, Leo Jr., now 57, joined him as an assistant in 1976.
They stayed there until Saturday. Leo Schocklin Sr. felt it was time to retire. He's 90.
This is the kind of guy my father is, Leo Schocklin Jr. said:
One of their clients, a business owner with a brain tumor, could no longer pay his monthly premiums, so Schocklin Sr. covered them during the remainder of his life - a turn of generosity now prohibited by Virginia law, his son said - and never asked for the money back.
After the man's death, Schocklin Sr. tried to help the family by buying groceries for them.
He recalled a stinging rejection in his early days: a woman saying she wouldn't buy insurance from a "damn Yankee." But she was the exception. The Schocklins ended with about 3,000 households, some second or third generation, the son said.
Shirley Edwards has bought insurance from Schocklin Sr. since his Prudential days in the early '50s.
"I love him," said Edwards, who lives in Portsmouth. "He's a gracious man. He has a nice, little voice. He never got really excited over anything."
Schocklin Sr. spelled out his philosophy: "It's important that every person be recognized. When they walk through that door, I know their name. They are the most important people I ever met."
The phone rang in his wood-paneled office during an interview last week. His son said he could let it go, but that was against Leo Schocklin Sr.'s nature.
He picked it up to bid farewell to yet another customer.
G. Robert Aston Jr., chairman and CEO of TowneBank, learned a valuable lesson from Schocklin early in his career. Aston was with Citizens Trust Co., which was partnering with State Farm to finance and insure drivers. Aston once told Schocklin that he would reject a loan to a risky applicant.
"He said, 'What do you mean you're not going to be able to do it? Let me tell you, son. I've had this guy insured for 28 years, and he's never missed a payment. If you finance this car, he's not going to miss a payment.' "
Aston relented. "The bottom line was, it worked exactly the way he said it would," Aston said. "I came to realize that understanding people and understanding who you were dealing with had as much value as those tangible things I was trying to measure mathematically."
In his quiet way, Schocklin also immersed himself in city life - from the Olive Branch Little League to the Lions Club to the Portsmouth Democratic Committee.
Quiet, yes. Bashful, no.
"He's the type of guy who tells you not what you want to hear, but exactly what he feels and what the situation is," said Del. Johnny Joannou, a Portsmouth attorney. "A lot of times, he said, 'Look, John, this is the way we should be going. This is going to help out the city.' "
Schocklin was ahead of his time when he sat on the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said Willard Moody Sr., an attorney who served as a state senator and delegate.
Schocklin lobbied to raze the rundown Twin Lakes neighborhood, near Port Norfolk, and put up new housing. It didn't happen during his tenure. But afterward, Moody said, the city successfully transformed the area, now known as Lake Shores.
"He was a very influential player in our community," Aston said, "but he was just kind of a regular guy. He had friends that had millions of dollars, and he had friends with a dollar in their pocket."
For most, he's been the kindly, soft-spoken insurance agent. Schocklin said he tried to be good to his customers, whose policies will be transferred to other agents. And State Farm was good to him: It helped put eight of his nine children through college.
Schocklin hopes to continue civic work, attend Norfolk Tides games and golf a bit during his retirement. His son wants to stay in insurance but hasn't firmed up his plans.
"I don't think I can ever come up to the salesman my dad was," Leo Schocklin Jr. said. "He was one of the best around. No one can touch him."
Philip Walzer, 757-222-3864,