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Fidelity Life founder Gordon Watson passes away

Gordon Watson, the founder of Fidelity Life, passed away peacefully yesterday after a long illness.

Tuesday, May 4th 2010, 3:55PM 22 Comments

Watson had had Alzheimer's for about six years, and his physical state deteriorated in recent years leading to a peaceful death.

After spending 10 years at National Mutual (six as sales grand champion), Watson and his wife Shirley founded Fidelity Life in 1973 with a vision of a New Zealand-owned and controlled company where advisers and staff could "have their say" and provide direct input into the company and its products. 

Fidelity Life set a precedent in New Zealand by trading solely through independent advisers at a time when most companies employed tied agents.

Fidelity Life chief executive Milton Jennings says without his efforts and hard work Fidelity Life would have never got off the ground.

"Watson believed we should play to our strengths, and realised that his strength was in selling insurance leaving the management of the company to others. He always stuck to that.

"Watson probably sold more life insurance in this country than any other agent. His input into the life industry in New Zealand was huge, as he passed on his knowledge and accumulated experience."

Watson is survived by his five daughters, six grandchildren and eight grandchildren.

He married his second wife Shirley at the same time as Fidelity Life was founded and Shirley had four children from her first marriage.

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Comments from our readers

On 4 May 2010 at 4:48 pm Arthur Smethurst said:
I first met Shirley and Gordon in 1974 when flying to MDRT. Yes he certainly was a great inspiration.
Never saw him far away from the famous hat
(was it a tilbury?).
On 4 May 2010 at 5:14 pm Ian Herbert said:
Gordon always made the life Assurance product appeal as a necesity of life, hence his success as one of the great insurance salespersons in NZ.
On 4 May 2010 at 5:27 pm Rod Buchanan said:
Truely an icon of the halcyon days when selling life insurance was all about endurance and persistence.
On 4 May 2010 at 5:39 pm David Pine said:
I had the pleasure of spending quite a lot of time with Gordon at the 2002 MDRT Annual Meeting in Nashville. He was as sharp as a tack,still keen to learn, and always happy to help by passing on good ideas. He was a legend in our industry.
On 4 May 2010 at 5:59 pm Alison Renfrew said:
After I wrote my first Fidelity policy in 1994 a person telephoned me "Hello, I'm Gordon Watson and I'm calling to thank you for placing a policy with us". No other CEO has ever done this. Fidelity is still a family based company thanks to it's founder. I'm proud to be part of it.
On 4 May 2010 at 8:23 pm Greg Burgess said:
Farewell Gordon,I endorse your dream to build a great company.Perhaps with some of your inspiration I can add to that great ship Fidelity.
On 5 May 2010 at 9:45 am Richard Hurley said:
About 12 years ago I went to Fidelity's office.Gordon got in the lift and said Hi what are you doing here today. I said I was very grateful in fact to be here because I was picking up a cheque for $200,000 for the widow of a man who had died suddenly aged 35. Gordon looked me right in the eye and said thats what it's all about son. That's what it's all about.
On 5 May 2010 at 10:46 am Alan Bradnock said:
If you can remember the control that was prevalent back in the 70"s and 80's from the life companies, more so than now that's for sure, and for him to have achieved what he did was truly fantastic and courageous. The company still has an open-door policy, they listen and have a great product suite, I'm sure Gordon would be very proud of how clever this company has become, other larger ones could learn a lot from. He was a visionary of the likes we are unlikely to see again in the insurance industry, and what is also special is that the CEO Milton Jennings never lets anyone forget his efforts and his values. A true "Zebra in a field of horses" was Gordon Watson.
On 5 May 2010 at 4:40 pm Brian Klee said:
My condolences to you doubt at peace, at last.
I really enjoyed reading Gordon's book -he was truly a great pioneer in NZ's Life Insurance business. His legacy is Fidelity Life and thanks to him, that will never change.
On 5 May 2010 at 4:43 pm Chris MacKay said:
My first insurance conference was in Rotorua in 1978. "The seven ages of man". The only speaker I remember was Gordon Watson and I think his speech was called "The old grey squirrel". I went to a breakout session at MDRT in Toronto in 1995 again to hear the New Zealand legend, our very own Gordon Watson. He was a great man with a powerful love for the profession and voacation he excelled at. In his MDRT speech, he ended and summed up [his belief in life insurance] by saying " other business creates such opportunity for you - one man to make such wonderful gifts to another man." His life on this earth has finished but his inspiration and the unwavering belief in the fantastic business he loved will certainly live on.
On 5 May 2010 at 8:32 pm Bede Brittenden said:
Thanks in no small way to the education and motivation I got from Gordon in the mid 70's when Fidelity was in Ponsonby, I continue to have enthusiasm and success in the Life Assurance Profession.

Make sure you doff your (famous)hat to the Man upstairs Gordon. R.I.P.
On 6 May 2010 at 3:49 pm Colin Strang said:
Gordon started his career in Dunedin with NML and when I started in 1971 he had already moved to Auckland sadly. However his legend lived on for many years in Dunedin and what he eventually achieved in our industry is truely amazing. I liken him as our own Ben Feldman. His ability to sell business assurance is without challenge.

On 6 May 2010 at 6:33 pm Richard Amery said:
Yes, as per the "Seven ages of Man" conference, Gordon was truly the consummate "wise old Squirrel" of the industry. When visiting at his Waiheke bach and puffing away at our cigars back in the 70's I remember asking him if I should buy a couple of flats as an investment, and he said "yes. If it works out well you will have a good investment, if not, you will have learned a valuable lesson, but either way, and more importantly, you will then be able to discuss the pros and cons of property investment with your clients from a position of strength"
See what I mean about the wise old squirrel?
But was the story true that when his old VW burnt out on Grafton bridge he rebuilt the rusty shell rather than buying a new car?
Love and condolences to Shirley and Margret and all the grandchildren.
Richard and Christine Amery
On 6 May 2010 at 7:11 pm Arlene said:
A side of Gordon many would not have been aware of. He became a member of 'The Singers Club' Onehunga a few years ago & came monthly with his daughter Wenona & several friends.He really loved getting up in front of the audience & sing, usually about his lost love. I knew him as a kind & gentle man.
God loves a singer Gordon. Thanks for the memory.
On 6 May 2010 at 8:21 pm Glenn TURNER said:
Who sold New Zealand's first private superannutaion scheme?
Who brought the split-dollar policy to New Zealand?
Who introduced proposal print-outs off a Wang desk-top computor (and was an Agent for them)?
Who sold policies large enough on the life of George Fistonich of Villa Maria that, when the business ran into trouble and the accounting firm had to step into the company and leave Fistonich to run the side of the business that he was good at [making the wine] there was enough money as loans on policies to allow the accounting firm to trade the company into solvency?

He did it "My Way"!

Gordon Watson the insurance "Si Fu"!
On 7 May 2010 at 11:28 am Andrea Williams said:
Thank you to you all. My grandfather loved the insurance industry, and the thought of selling an idea, which he did so well. My name is Andrea Williams and I'm Gordon's eldest grandchild from his first marriage. I will deeply miss my grandad, but know that he is now walking along Onetangi Beach side by side with his family that have gone before.
On 7 May 2010 at 5:10 pm Rob Walker said:
Gordon was an inspiration to all he met. He built a fine NZ owned company, not selling out when the going got tough. He taught me about persistence, and I enjoyed many of his flip chart 'one on one' presentations - when I was the one seeking his business!
He was a good man...
On 13 May 2010 at 7:14 pm DARRYL ELSLEY said:
First met Gordon at a National Mutual conference in Melbourne just before he commenced his own company. He invited me to come to NZ and start with him. An honour to be asked. Sad to hear the news.Would liked to have spent more time together.
On 20 May 2010 at 5:31 pm Dennis Gibbs said:
I sold my first Fidelity Life policy in 1995 and at 9.30 one evening I got a call from Gordon, introducing himself and thanking me for that first bit of business. As a relatively new adviser I felt quite honoured that the Boss of fidelity should call me. He was passionate about his profession and such a good example to all of us. God bless him. Rest in peace, Gordon.
On 26 July 2010 at 2:04 pm Geoff Weston said:
Gordon lived next door to me here in Dunedin when I was a boy. I got to know all the girls while they were here, along with his wife..Biddy. I met Gordon a few years ago, when he turned up at my house and we went over all those times ago. Just how he got out of where he was here in Dunedin is a fascinating story. He came back again with Wynona and Bob a year later, and we had a great time in a local pub and he was taken to the local model railway for the day where he spent all afternoon riding the trains and drinking a beer later on. He was a fine person whom I recall for his black mac coat. When he came to visit me, he had the same type of coat on. And we had a laugh about it, and as he said, "Geoffrey, I'm still wearing that same coat you recall when you were eleven years old."
On 23 August 2010 at 3:43 pm Robert Phillips said:
I bought my first house from Gordon in 1969, and naturally took a policy to go with the mortgage. Ever a gentle gentleman, with a warmth which always made it a joy to see him. His hat was my first memory, always tilted up at the front with a finger push when he was greeting a woman. I wish his family well.
On 7 June 2011 at 3:57 pm Linden Johnson (Watson) said:
I am the 2nd daughter of Gordon Watson and had the unique experience of having him as my father. His intelligence, incentive, passion and drive for life and achievement will live forever through the generations of his family, through us 5 girls, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren. Thankyou Dad for giving us the this unique legacy, and hopefully now, you can finish a sentence in peace.... for you always commented that you never finished a sentence in 25years when we were all at home.... thankyou for your strength and tenacity that we all have inherited through you and our mother, Patricia, (Biddy)xx
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