Stories From the Past

By Sarah Simoneaux • January 07, 2015 • 0 Comments

Editor's Note: This article was published in the fall 2014 issue of Plan Consultant magazine.

Dr. Zhivago” had been at the local movie theater for three weeks. Driving to the theater cost 32 cents per gallon of gas, and “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and Papas played on AM radio. The miniskirt was new that summer, and cost 30 times as much as that gallon of gas. The Beatles had just played their last concert in Candlestick Park, although they didn’t know it at the time. You could have bought a ticket to that concert for $4.50.

And a group of Texas actuaries led by Harry T. Eidson felt change in the air and took a gamble to form a new organization — the American Society of Pension Actuaries. The year was 1966, which means we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of that small but auspicious beginning less than two years from now.

Just four years after the Studebaker pension collapse and eight years before ERISA was a twinkle in the proverbial eye, Harry and his colleagues firmly believed in the importance of a private pension system for the United States. He was committed to building an organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing that system. Today, Harry might be surprised at ASPPA’s growth — from a handful of Texans to more than 16,000 members including its sister organizations — but he would recognize the same dedication to the private pension system that he envisioned nearly 50 years ago.

The years passed, marked by a parade of legislative acronyms: ERISA, TEFRA, DEFRA, REA, TRA 86, SBJA, EGTRAA and PPA. “Top heavy” changed from a teenaged boy’s clandestine whisper to a pension buzzword that’s still with us today. Defined benefit plans gave way to 401(k) plans, but the private pension system endured and prospered. ASPA added a “P” in recognition of the increasing diversity and growth within the profession.

On the Shoulders of Giants

As the retirement profession evolved at an ever-increasing pace, we began to lose the founders and influential early leaders of ASPPA. Harry Eidson, FSPA, CPC, left us in 1994. In 1995, ASPPA established the Harry T. Eidson Founders Award to acknowledge individuals, like Harry, who have made significant contributions to ASPPA and/or to the private pension system.

Fittingly, the first recipient of the award was past president Ed Burrows, MSPA. When we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, Ed is one of those towering individuals whom we think of. He pioneered efforts to build bridges with not only other actuarial organizations but also with legislators and regulators. He was one of the driving forces behind a series of white papers called “NRIP” — a blueprint for a National Retirement Income Policy. His legacy of professional inclusion and advocacy for Americans’ retirement is alive and well in our organization today.

Ed passed on too soon in 2008, and ACOPA established The Edward E. Burrows Distinguished Achievement Award that same year to be awarded to a pension actuary who has, by their actions, set an example for other pension actuaries. Ed was the first recipient of the award that bears his name. Despite this well-deserved honor in his name, many who knew Ed were surprised — and chagrined — that no one had recorded his experiences and words for future members. Though Ed was a visionary, he was self-effacing, witty and never used two words when one would do — a legacy we could all aspire to.

Preserving and Documenting ASPPA’s Story

Ed’s was just one, albeit important, individual story behind the public events shaping the last 50 years that, until now, would have only been partially told. After losing Ed, a devoted group of ASPPA volunteers and staff led by ASPPA past president Karen Jordan, CPC, QPA, QKA, began to work with author Jack El-Hai to produce an ASPPA history book. The upcoming anniversary seemed far away back then. Fortunately, the group stayed together over several years and captured hundreds of hours of interviews, anecdotes, videos and pictures for the “ASPPA history book” project. The “book” is really more of a multi-media experience, including video interviews with ASPPA members and leaders, past and present, and interactive links to stories and photos. Most importantly, the project was started early enough to capture videos with some of our most senior members while they were still with us.

This fall, Jack and the committee, aided by ASPPA staff, picked up the pace of their work on the 50th anniversary book project, including preliminary design and layout of the book. And that’s where you come in. They’re looking for photos and objects (pins, awards, etc.) that can be photographed associated with ASPA and ASPPA over the years (and with the industry at large) to include in the book. What’s in your attic? If you have something that fits the bill, please email a scan or photo of the picture or object to John Ortman at jortman@asppa.org. He’ll take it from there.

Don’t miss the 50th anniversary celebration in 2016 … miniskirts and Mamas and Papas music are optional!

Sarah Simoneaux, CPC, is president of Simoneaux Consulting Services in Mandeville, La. and a principal of Simoneaux & Stroud Consulting Services. She is a former president of ASPPA and previously served on the Education and Examination Committee as a Technical Education Consultant. Simoneaux wrote the textbook, Retirement Plan Consulting for Financial Professionals, which is used for the PFC-1 (Plan Financial Consulting - Part 1) course of ASPPA’s Qualified Plan Financial Consultant (QPFC) credentialing program.