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The Genius of Alonzo Fowler Kempton

Alonzo Fowler Kempton

It took a special individual to guide The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company through its difficult formative years. Alonzo Fowler Kempton, tempestuous, visionary and hard-nosed, was just such an individual.

Kempton seemed to many to be bigger than life. Large and broad-shouldered, he strode about town, gruff with neighbours and staff, but always ready with a smile and a nickel for local children. Kempton's appetites were also large. He brought in raw oysters by the barrel from his native Nova Scotia. He built the biggest and best home in the town, complete with an electrical generator and a Chinese cook. No one in Wawanesa would dream of buying a bigger car than the secretary-manager.

The founder of Wawanesa had the tenacity - and the demeanor - of a bulldog. He was notorious for using profanity freely, both in the office and on the street. When he dictated letters to his secretary, he insisted she put back all the swear words she had diligently deleted after his dictation. On one memorable occasion, Kempton bumped into a cross-eyed neighbour on the sidewalk. "I sure wish you'd look where you're going," yelled the man. "Damn it," Kempton shouted back, "I wish you'd go where you're looking."

Kempton ruled the company as his own personal fiefdom, issuing rapid-fire orders to staff and frequently clashing with the directors. On several occasions, he threatened resignation in order to get his way. For the first few years, the directors always capitulated because they knew no one else could run the company.

After guiding The Mutual for many years, Kempton once again offered his resignation during a stormy directors' meeting in 1922. This time it was accepted. Kempton is remembered as that special breed of individual who demanded the most from those around him. In so doing, he helped develop one of Canada's most successful insurance companies.

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