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Tom Breazeale closes State Farm agency after 47 years
The man from Clemson goes home

State Farm and Thomas C. “Buck” Breazeale go together like ham and eggs, the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth, and an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. It’s always seemed like a natural fit.

A decorated war veteran, dairy expert and influential Clemson University alum, Breazeale and his State Farm Insurance agency have been serving the West Knox County area for 47 years while earning statewide and national sales honors.

But just as Babe Ruth had to eventually bid farewell to Yankee Stadium and Major League Baseball, Tom Breazeale bids farewell to State Farm and West Knox County.

Retiring today, Thursday, Sept. 30, Breazeale will return to the home of his youth in Clemson, S.C., where he has a condominium along a lake.

“I’m eighty-four years old, and I’ve had a tremendous success in building up our business here,” said Breazeale, whose Thomas C. Breazeale Agency’s most recent home is 110 Perimeter Park Road, Suite G.

“It’s hard to break away from, but there comes a time in your life you look in the mirror and say ‘where am I?’ and ‘what’s going on from here on in?’ … I decided it’s time to hang it up.”

Speaking in mid-September, “the last three or four weeks have been real emotional,” Breazeale said. “It makes you feel sad in a way.”

Breazeale said he would leave on top, coming off “one of my best years” in 2003 with the agency.

“We have the largest fire agency in the state,” Breazeale said, adding that since 1964, “I’ve been the number one writer of fire insurance in this town. And we’re one of the largest agencies in the state, too.”

Breazeale managed approximately 180 employees in 47 years. Three of the most recent employees spoke glowingly and emotionally about their relationship with the veteran State Farm agent.

Among Breazeale’s 13 current employees is licensed insurance associate Betty McEntyre, who celebrates her 25th year with the agency in 2004. “We all call him “Mr. B,” McEntyre said, adding that with a predominantly female work force Breazeale came to label his female employees as “B girls … it’s a term of endearment.”

As for the man himself, “He’s one of the smartest businessmen I’ve ever known,” McEntyre said. “He says that ‘if you can’t change with the times, you don’t need to be in this business.’

“He’s been a very fair person with all his employees, and a joy to work for … I guess that’s why I’ve been here for so long.”

In her poem entitled “Mr. B.,” agency bank specialist Amy Templeton honors her boss of 18 months with the final lines of the poem as follows: … He was not only my boss but also my friend/Many letters to him I will send/Now it is his time to have fun/Off to Clemson to play in the sun!/I wish the best of luck/To the special man also known as “Buck.”

Carla McCarter, an agency licensed insurance associate who has been with Breazeale since June 1996, was equally praiseworthy: “My relationship with Mr. Breazeale has been that of a teacher and a student. He makes sure that out of every situation, a lesson is learned. And he teaches by example. He has taught me to really care for my clients, and to handle each one with the utmost integrity and compassion. I not only see him as my boss, but most importantly, I see him as a friend and a family member.”

Further reflecting on 47 years, Breazeale said: “This business, if you do it right, it gives you a sense of satisfaction of having accomplished something to help people.”

His early background involved expertise in dairy production, sales and distribution.

Breazeale said he first came to Knoxville as a regional sales manager with Sealtest in 1952 after having successfully developed a more “rigid” ice cream mix for such ice cream retailers as Dairy Queen in the early 1950s.

“I had three plants under me,” Breazeale said. “About 115 sales people.”

When the Chattanooga and Knoxville plants closed in 1957, “they wanted to put me back on the road in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana,” Breazeale said. “And I didn’t want that. I said, ‘heck, if I can make money for somebody else I can do it for myself.’

“I had been president of the West Hills Community Club, and Walt Cartier at that time was State Farm manager here,” Breazeale added. “He got me in with State Farm, and I’ve been here since … he said it’s a place you never have to retire from. And it’s true, I don’t have to retire right now.”

Graduating from Clemson in 1942 as class president, Breazeale twice served as president of the Clemson Alumni Association and served on the Advisory Board of the College of Business and Behavioral Science at the South Carolina school.

“I have over the years helped develop alumni and athletic giving,” Breazeale said of his ties with Clemson, which includes his $250,000 donation “for a finance professor.”

Clemson has honored the veteran insurance agent with its Breazeale Chair of Financial Planning.

A major in dairy manufacturing at Clemson beginning in 1938, Breazeale said he learned specific lessons from “my old professor, Ben Goodale” about teaching and how to successfully delegate authority.

“He had specific ways of teaching you … he’d show you how to test milk … the next time he has you do the milk test, he has the student tell the class how to do it,” Breazeale said. “He’s getting you to express yourself in the area of education that you’ve decided to go into. That means a lot to you.”

Breazeale put that advice to practice as a teacher at Clemson from 1945-49. “I taught dairy manufacturing, advertising and marketing,” he said.

“The other thing that (Goodale) said to me (was), as you grow in your business, you should never get in a position to over-work yourself. Some people try and do all the work themselves.

“Don’t you ever do any more work than you can teach other people to do,” Breazeale added. “That one thing has helped me develop an office here. Along with that, you give these people a job, tell them what you want them to do, how they should do it, and get the hell out of their way, and let them do it. Make them responsible for doing it.”

Breazeale said his early involvement in the Knox County community included obtaining “in the neighborhood” of 3,500 to 4,000 dogwood trees for the West Hills and Suburban Hills communities that helped spark the Dogwood Arts Festival in 1961.

As West Hills Community Club president, Breazeale said he helped lead the effort to create West Hills Elementary School in the early 1960s.

In recent years, Breazeale helped create Safety City near Tyson Park, a miniature city built for young children to teach proper car and home safety tips.

For all of his State Farm and Clemson success, Breazeale’s accomplishments extend into the defense of his country.

Straight out of Clemson, Breazeale served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and while obtaining the rank of captain earned medals of valor including two Silver Stars, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

“You gain a lot of experience training troops,” he said.

Breazeale also experienced the horrors of battle. “I got shot up during the war,” he said. “A mine went off under one of my tanks and a piece of shrapnel severed an artery in my left leg. I like to have bled to death.” He spent the next two years recovering.

Before embarking on his dairy and insurance careers, Breazeale earned a master’s degree at Iowa State University in Ames in the late 1940s.

Breazeale and his late wife, Anne Townsend, have one daughter, Anne Hadden; grandson, Robert Hadden; and three great-grandchildren.


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