Trips Abroad: Lathrop Insurance Agency

Thu, 02/28/2013 - 3:27pm

John Lathrop smiles.

“Does Lathrop Insurance do much business on Block Island? Yes, we do, and it all started with Fran Lathrop back in the mid-’70s.” John chuckles. “ My dad, Fran, loved a challenge and our very first piece of business on the island was just that.”

John explains that Barbara Sprague called Fran with a dilemma: she and Tiny had tried many insurance agencies, but couldn’t get a bond so that their company could bid on construction of the new Island Free Library. “They’re saying it’s too risky bringing materials and equipment over the open ocean with high wind exposure,” she explained to Fran.

Fran made a few phone calls, found a bond underwriter willing to take a look, brought him over to the island, and “after a few tuna fish sandwiches and a review of the books, he shook hands with Barbara and Tiny and said, ‘You’ve got a bond.’”

“It’s been nearly 40 years since then,” says John, “and some things remain the same. Like my dad, I enjoy working with folks on the Island, and there have indeed been some challenges.” He told one “before-the-internet” story about times when he had to rely on Edie Blaine for pictures of homes being insured. “Edie was great. First of all, she could find the house and her pictures were excellent, but she would often pass on droll comments like, ‘Nice house but I hate that purple door.’”

The internet has replaced Edie Blaine’s pics and opinions, but you can’t go on-line to solve problems with wind. John emphasized that for the past few years, wind damage has become especially distressing: “Catastrophic insurance, once a relatively minor coverage, has gone up tenfold. We’re faced with fluctuations, especially on the coast where we’re exposed to major hurricanes. In the past, auto insurance was the first concern, followed by home. Now it’s home first, and home insurance can include high wind deductibles, something that’s very important to Block Islanders.”

Lathrop Insurance has been a family business in Westerly since John’s grandfather, Francis, started it right after the 1938 hurricane. John took over from his dad in a sharp turn away from a career in exercise physiology. He graduated from Westerly High in 1975 where he was on the tennis and swim teams, studied Physical Education at Ursinus College, and earned a Masters degree in Physiology at the University of Oregon. Throughout his studies and beyond, John enjoyed competing in triathlons.

He was Director of Physical Education at the Boston YMCA when his dad asked him and his four siblings to consider taking over. John bit. Today Lathrop Insurance employs eight people. “They’re all ‘old hands,’” says John. “With one exception of eight years, they’ve all been here from between 15 to 25 years so they’re a savvy crew, smart about the business and the territory.” And the boss definitely knows the territory. John has been on the board of directors of the YMCA, the Westerly Hospital, the Adult Day Care Center, was a member of the school committee, and has coached basketball and soccer.

Lathrop Insurance Agency, Inc. is an independent agency located at 85 A Beach Street in Westerly. They can be reached by telephone at 888-596-2530 or 401-596-2525, by fax at 401-596-9568, and by email at