Will Graebe has been a staple at Lawyers Mutual for 20 years. There’s no doubt that his skill and knowledge are just as sharp as his wit. During his time with Lawyers Mutual, Will has built lasting relationships with both his colleagues and insureds. A stroll down the halls of Lawyers Mutual and a few conversations with colleagues would yield stories that can attest to Will’s sense of humor, dedication and big heart. His retirement is a bittersweet occasion for Lawyers Mutual, as he will be sorely missed. We had a chance to talk to our favorite “yogi at law” and learn more about his plans for the future.
LM: What is it that attracted you to Lawyers Mutual and has led you to stay this long?
WG: I always loved the law but never found my groove in private practice, so I decided to look for an in-house position back in 1998. Since Wayne Stephenson had left Lawyers Mutual for what he thought was a greener pasture, the company was looking for a new claims attorney. I interviewed with John Beard and Gerald Arnold. Judge Arnold had just been hired as the head of the Claims Department. I hit it off with Judge Arnold immediately, and, while Beard probably wouldn’t admit it, I eventually convinced him that I wasn’t such a bad guy. I loved the company’s message and passion for helping lawyers. I have stayed at Lawyers Mutual for 20 years because of the relationships I have had with co-workers, defense counsel, and our insureds. When I started here, I could not have imagined how gratifying it would be to work with such good people.
LM: What will you miss the most about working at Lawyers Mutual?
WG: I will miss the satisfaction of helping our insured lawyers avoid and resolve claims. When I started here, I had no idea how deeply affected lawyers are by their mistakes and claims. When lawyers call us, they are at their most vulnerable and humble. They are placing their trust and confidence in us to solve their problems. I have never taken that responsibility lightly. It has been a great honor and a privilege to serve our profession in this way.
On a less serious note, I will sorely miss pranking Mark Scruggs and others in our office. I fear that the maturity level of the other claims attorneys here at Lawyers Mutual will make it difficult to fill this role in my absence.
LM: What lessons learned while with Lawyers Mutual will you carry with you?
WG: Evolution. Both in my personal and professional life, I have learned the importance of being willing to evolve and adapt as situations change. I have been here through the terms of four presidents, each with his own talents and leadership style. I have served in our Claims Department under the leadership of four Claims Committee chairs and four Board chairs. I have been here through the boom times as well as the crash of 2008. Change isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just change. How I respond to the change is what is important. I like what philosopher Alan Watts says about change: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.”
LM: A large part of the company’s culture is community service. Can you tell us about some of the community service projects that you’ve been involved in both in and out of the office?
WG: I have worked with a number of groups to find permanent and transitional housing for the homeless. Through this work, I have met many people who have amazing stories of struggle and survival. I have also worked with resettling refugee families and finding housing for them. One of my favorite service projects was sponsoring a child for about 7 summers in the Children of Chernobyl project. Our family developed a continuing relationship with this young lady and we remain in touch with her. At Lawyers Mutual and my church, I have worked with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. I have also volunteered with co-workers at the Ronald McDonald House. I am proud to be part of a company that sees the importance of giving back to the community and sees value in the lives of all people.
LM: Can you tell us a little bit about how your job has evolved over the years?
WG: I started as a claims attorney and worked very closely with our insureds on a daily basis resolving claims and assisting insureds in avoiding claims. Today, my job is very different. When I try to explain to people what I do, I usually just tell them I have a lot of meetings. In my role as Vice President of Claims, I work closely with a very talented group of claims attorneys to achieve the best results possible for our insureds. We have a very collaborative approach to handling claims, and I like that.
LM: What is one of your fondest memories of your time with Lawyers Mutual?
WG: In my first year at Lawyers Mutual, I attended the North Carolina Bar Association annual meeting at the Grove Park. Apparently, the resort had overbooked the rooms and we somehow ended up with the Deepak Chopra suite, which covered an entire corner of the 8th floor of the Sammons Wing. We’re talking fancy, with a television that magically rose from the counter with a push of a button and a massive conference table and couches and chairs that could accommodate a small village. I called my good friend and co-worker, Camille Stell, and told her to grab her husband, Robby, and come down immediately. We met Camille and Robby at the door in our plush Grove Park robes and swore them to secrecy. If John Beard found out that I had this room, I knew we would be forced to give it up to him and live like the commoners in the standard rooms. It was pretty much a non-stop party and social hub for the entire weekend. Until now, John Beard never knew about this. I guess it’s safe now to tell the story.
LM: What are you looking forward to the most about retirement?
WG: About two years ago, I came up with a plan to learn how to sail and then buy a boat and sail off to the Caribbean. I spent most of my evenings researching the right boat and the provisions I would need. I read everything I could get my hands on about living aboard a boat full time. I completed a sailing certification course in Miami and decided I would cast off the bowlines when my youngest child, Madeline, graduated from college at the end of 2018. Then a funny thing happened. I met Leslie at Indigo Yoga where I took hot yoga classes. We started dating and are now engaged. Needless to say, my plans have changed. Leslie became my boat. I still hope to buy a boat someday and I think I know what I will name her. But for now, I am looking forward to spending time with Leslie and our new puppy and finding new adventures wherever they show up. As Alan Watts suggests, I plan to join the dance and let it take me wherever it will.
LM: What are your retirement plans?
WG: My immediate plan is to do yoga teacher certification in Carrboro from January through March. Leslie and I are then planning to enjoy our new home and do some traveling. I also plan to go fishing every chance I get. Oh, and I am really looking forward to sleeping in. I’m sure I’ll work again but have no idea what my next career will be—maybe reality television star or my own TV fishing show.
Whatever the future holds for Will, he will always have a special place in the hearts of his Lawyers Mutual family. We wish him the best in his future endeavors and have no doubt that he will own this next chapter like only he can, because where there’s a Will…