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January 11, 2013

Bob Bestler | Ingram was an innovator

Every once in a while a name in the obituaries catches my eye and takes me back to another day.

Every once in a while a name in the obituaries catches my eye and takes me back to another day.

It happened this week with the notice that John Ingram of North Carolina had died at age 89.

Ingram held several public offices in North Carolina, but I knew him when he became insurance commissioner for the state in 1972.

As an editorial writer for The Charlotte Observer, I interviewed him regarding some of the progressive changes he was making to a stodgy old government beau racy.

The most important, at the time, was a consumer affairs bureau that would handle insurance complaints from the public.

It may seem odd now, but looking back I guess the notion that an insurance commissioner was there for consumers as well as the insurance companies was revolutionary.

One never knows if such programs actually work or if they are just talk; a lot of good ideas fizzle when they hit reality.

I got a chance to test Ingram’s lofty goals on a personal level a couple of years later.

My mother-in law had an auto accident in Charlotte and the insurance company refused to pay, saying the car was still in her former husband’s name, though she had purchased the insurance. I tried to plead her case to a company spokesman, to no avail.

Then I recalled John Ingram’s new consumer protection program. I called his office in Raleigh and relayed the problem to a consumer affairs specialist.

Within two hours I got a call back from the insurance company. I was told that the company had discussed the situation and a check would be in the mail. Just a little misunderstanding, heh-heh.

Ten minutes later, I got a call from Ingram’s office. The insurance company has agreed to pay, I was told. I know, I said. I just heard from them. Oh, and thanks a ton.

In Tuesday’s obituary, I learned of several other Ingram innovations.

His department made North Carolina the first state to abolish assigned risk, the first state to abolish age and sex discrimination in auto insurance rates and the first state to create a special office for the handicapped.

His staff also designed the blue and white handicapped parking sign that is now commonplace around the world.

All in all, a life well lived. Nice going, John.

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