``Retirement' may be a misnomer for former Pilot Life president and chief executive Louis C. Stephens.
Ostensibly, Louis C. Stephens retired in 1987.
Indeed, on the first day of that year, he did step aside as president and chief executive officer of the former Pilot Life Insurance Co.
But clearly, he did not retire. Today at age 71, he may be busier now that he's out of work than when he was dutifully employed.Recently, his alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, bestowed upon him its Distinguished Alumnus Award and, in so doing, cited at length his post-retirement activities.
He is vice chairman of the Duke Endowment Board of Trustees and chairman of the investment committee for the $1.4 billion endowment that has allowed Duke University to become one of the nation's best academic institutions.
He is a member of the Doris Duke Trust, the Nanaline H. Duke Fund and the Angier B. Duke Fund.
He is a member, and until recently was chairman of the board, of the Research Triangle Foundation, the nonprofit agency responsible for development of what arguably is North Carolina's greatest economic asset, the Research Triangle Park.
He is a member and past chairman of the Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, a consortium that holds land in the Research Triangle Park and houses the National Humanities Center.
He is a member of the Board of Visitors of the UNC School of Business.
He remains a member of the boards of directors of Jefferson-Pilot Corp. and Jefferson-Pilot Life Insurance Co.
But these activities, as prestigious as they are, take up only a fraction of his time.
In Greensboro and the Triad, he was a founder and remains active with the Piedmont Wellness Council. He serves on fund-raising committees at the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and on The Excellence Fund at UNCG.
And there's still more.
He's served food at Urban Ministry, helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity and, at St. Paul's Catholic Church, takes his turn delivering hot meals in south Greensboro for Mobile Meals.
``He has more enthusiasm and is more energetic than anyone I've known,' says John K. Jones, who retired last month as a Jefferson-Pilot executive vice president.
Jones, who worked for nearly 20 years at Pilot Life, said Stephens was held in almost reverent esteem by his co-workers because of his ability to both get along with people and get the most out of them.
``The word we used to use to describe Louis was he was an 'achiever' and he let you become one too,' Jones said.
James O. Robertson, president of the Research Triangle Foundation, said Stephens, during a five-year reign as chairman ``was particularly adept at getting everybody involved. He'd go around the table saying 'I'd like to hear from you.' He was a very effective chairman.'
Stephens himself doesn't like to talk about all his activities. He fears it will sound like braggadocio. But, he does admit, when pressed, that his days usually are full.
He is an early riser - about 6 a.m. - and usually fast walks three miles and then goes to mass at St. Paul's Church. Occasionally he reverses the process, attending church first and then doing his daily exercise.,
After that, it is off to his office in the Jefferson Standard building in downtown Greensboro or to sessions of one of the many boards he serves on. He tries to be home for dinner with wife Mary by 6 or 7 p.m.
Why doesn't he slow down?
``I'm not a good rocker,' he says. ``I like to be busy. I've got a lot of energy and I feel well.'
But, Stephens emphasizes, he takes time to smell the roses - more often than not with his family.
Louis and Mary Stephens have eight children - three sons and five daughters. All eight, incidentally, are graduates of UNC-CH like their dad. Six are married. So far, they have eight grandchildren, with a ninth on the way.
The Stephenses often take time off to visit the children, who are scattered from Greenwich, Conn., to Atlanta. And, of course, the children often visit them at the Mount Vernon-like manor house north of the city that Stephens bought in 1987.
He also has a house at Roaring Gap in the mountains.
Stephens was born and reared at Dunn in Harnett County southeast of Raleigh where his parents owned tobacco and cotton farms. After high school, he went off to Carolina, graduating with a degree in accounting and earning a Phi Beta Kappa key along the way.
By then, World War II was under way and he spent the next three years in the Navy, serving in the Pacific, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.
After the war, he got a master's degree in business from Harvard and then began looking for a permanent job. A former UNC teacher urged him to talk to Joe Bryan at Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Co. in Greensboro.
Bryan, who recently retired from the Jefferson-Pilot board after 60 years, offered him a job as a securities analyst. Stephens accepted. Two years later, he was asked to organize a securities and investment department at Jefferson's sister company, Pilot Life, then located in a campus setting at Sedgefield. He became Pilot president in 1971.
Jones, who was a senior vice president under him, noted that Pilot had record earnings during the Stephens years, a success he attributes to the family atmosphere Stephens fostered.
``He was as likely to have lunch with the mail room employees as he was with the executives,' Jones recalled.
``Bright' is a word friends and associates often pick to describe Stephens.
``He is a very bright guy,' says retired Greensboro Daily News Editor Bill Snider, who's played tennis with him once a week for years.
``He's very intelligent, bright, decisive,' says Roger Kavanagh, another tennis partner and long-time Greensboro businessman.
Stephens says the secret to his success is at home.
``I have a great marriage to an exceptionally fine lady,' he said. ``What success I've had comes in great measure from my association with her.'
Mary Adams Stephens originally was from Florida but they met at a dance in New York where she worked with the Christopher Foundation, an organization founded by a priest to help bring faith in God back into the marketplace.
Mary Stephens shares her husband's passion for causes.
While he's trying to persuade more Greensboro churches to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, she has become an ardent proponent of Reading Connections, which uses trained volunteers to teach illiterate adults to read and write.
He wants more churches to come forward. She wants more volunteers.
These may be their retirement years but there's nothing retiring about either.
MEET LOUIS STEPHENS
Title: Retired president, Pilot Life Insurance Co., director Jefferson-Pilot Corp. and Jefferson-Pilot Insurance Co.\ Birth Date: Dec. 19, 1921\ Hometown: Dunn\ Education: bachelor's degree from UNC-Chapel Hill; master's degree from Harvard; the Executive Program, UNC.\ Military Background: U.S. Navy, Lt. Commander, World War II.\ Family: wife, Mary; children, Michael, Mary, Anne, Joan, Louis, Suzanne, Melanie, Peter.\ On retirement: ``When I worked at Pilot Life, the important part of my life was The Pilot. Now I spend time each day on a variety of activities. I do have full days but there's nothing profound or unusual about this. I enjoy what I'm doing.'