As you listen to the men and women gathered to pay tribute to one of their comrades, there is a single thread that runs through conversations: Working at Golden State Mutual Life (GSM) Insurance was a bedrock in their lives.

It did not matter if they worked at the venerable insurance company for a few years or decades, each of the individuals who gathered recently at Billy Campbell’s All State Insurance office in Inglewood on Manchester Avenue had a story to tell about how a company founded on hopes, dreams, and determination impacted their lives.

This was especially true for the guest of honor.

“I worked at Golden State Mutual a total of 14 years,” explained Joe Richmond, who initially arrived at the doors of the building he had grown up blocks away from on Adams Boulevard and Western Avenue.

“My parent’s insurance agent told me he was getting ready to retire and told me to go down and apply for a job,” recalls Richmond, who was 24 at the time.

He got the job and spent 10 years learning leadership skills, sales skills and much more.

“It was a training (ground). When I first started, I was not long out of the service, and I didn’t know anything about communications or anything. I had no idea how to meet people,” said Richmond.

Golden State taught him that and much more.

Campbell worked at the insurance company for four years, and in that short time, he says it gave him so much.

“Brotherhood. I was fortunate enough to meet two of the founders–Mr. Beavers and Norman O. Houston… (and) qualified for one of their conventions within the first six months of my working there,” reminisced Campbell, who says the event was held in Hawaii, and every time he smells pineapple, he remembers.

During Campbell’s stint at the company, they put him through agent training and the manager program, and eventually gave him the business knowledge and skills to start his own company.

For Austin Moore, who is active in the Golden State Mutual Alumni Association, it is the people GSM produced that he thinks about.

“It (the company) was born in 1925 by a man who had a dream–Nickerson–and that dream was to provide insurance services (at a time) when (Black) people couldn’t get insurance . . . We had a highly productive company. We trained a lot of people,” explained Moore who left GSM to start his own business in 1977.

But although the company as it was, is now gone–the California Department of Insurance liquidated or sold off most of the assets–people like Richmond, Campbell, Moore and Norman Grundy, still gather together to enjoy the friendship and “family” that working at GSM created.

The one-year-old alumni association meets once a month, and members and their families also participate in a number of events. Among the upcoming activities are a picnic Sept. 19 at Alondra Park, and a cruise to Mexico in February 2011.

One of the goals of the organization is to enable the “insurance men” and women who worked together for sometimes 30 and 40 years to keep up with one another, and keep alive the memory of a business that was once described as the largest African American insurance company on the West Coast.