Lee Starnes of State Farm announces retirement
For the past 29 years in Haywood County, the name Lee Starnes has represented State Farm Insurance, but as anyone who knows the man behind the company can attest to, that name has become almost synonymous with idea of community.
Name a nonprofit benefit, community event or local school, and chances are Starnes has been involved with it in some capacity. From funding sports equipment for school teams to sponsoring festivals, Starnes and his State Farm branch has lived up to the company’s motto about being a “good neighbor.”
So it is a bittersweet moment for many when they hear Starnes is retiring at the end of the month.
“The reason is to spend a little time with family and friends,” he said, but added that he won’t be disappearing from the community any time soon.
He said people can certainly still expect to see him helping out with his usual causes, and possibly adding a few now that he’ll have more time.
“He’ll probably add to his list instead of take away from it,” said Starnes’ office manager Linda Hurley with a laugh.
Like many people who want to give back to others, Starnes is modest about his contributions to Haywood County, saying only, “You enjoy the community, and you want to give back to the community,” when asked about his work outside of the State Farm office.
The list of his contributions is a long one, including sponsorship and support of organizations and events including the Senior Games, United Way, the Apple Harvest Festival, Meals on Wheels, Little League baseball, Classic Cars for Cops and Kids, Folkmoot International, sending school children to space camp, MADD and many other activities. He has served as a past president of the Haywood Rotary Club, a member of the Haywood County Schools Foundation board, the 2010 Grand Marshall of the Haywood County Christmas Parade, a board member of the Waynesville Recreation Center and the current president of the Haywood County Historical and Genealogical Society.
Starnes has also worked outside the community as a part of the North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Team. As a member of First Baptist Church of Waynesville, Starnes joined the group, which travels to disaster areas to help people in need. Most recently, Starnes returned from a trip to New Jersey to help people there after Hurricane Sandy struck.
And the list goes on.
“I’ve been glad to support those things,” Starnes said simply.
If he won't elaborate about his community involvement, his long-time staff will.
Ask them what their boss is all about and be prepared for a slew of praise for Starnes.
“Wherever there’s a need, if he’s able to meet it, he does,” said Mary Jo Starnes, who has worked with Starnes for many years.
“He’s a very giving person,” Hurley added. “He hates to turn people down.”
“He’s the most unselfish person. He’s spoiled us more than anybody,” said State Farm bank representative Pam Pressley.
Of course, all this work has come with various honors from the business world and the local community. Among them are becoming a Legion of Honor qualifier, a member of the Chairman Circle, a recipient of the Golden Triangle designation from State Farm Insurance, recognition as a Hometown Hero and being awarded the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Month in May 2012.
Starnes’ staff are unsurprised that he would receive recognition for all of his work, especially when it came to State Farm clients.
“He goes out of his way to help his people,” Starnes said, recalling an incident in which he drove all the way to Winston-Salem to help an elderly couple who had an accident and were stranded there.
“That’s his main goal is to satisfy the customer,” Pressley added.
Starnes is more vocal when he talks about his work as a State Farm agent, but he makes sure to give much of the credit for his successes to his staff.
“Without my staff, I couldn’t do anything,” he said, adding they work as a team to help their policy holders as much as possible when something adverse happens. “And it does happen. Everyone in here has really tried to bend over backwards for our clients.”
Starnes said the people he works with will be what he misses the most when he leaves the State Farm office on Main Street at the end of January.
“I’ll miss this group right here,” he said, smiling at his staff.
“It’s like a family, we’ve been together so long,” Hurley agreed.
The office will remain open with the assignment of a new agent, Beth Dunaway, to the post, and the existing staff will continue to work with State Farm.
“I want to thank Haywood County for all their support. I also appreciate the support of all the service providers,” Starnes said. “Haywood County is a great place to be.”
Join Starnes for a farewell drop in reception from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at the State Farm office at 38 South Main Street in Waynesville.