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Former Nationwide general chairman and chief executive officer Dean W. Jeffers died today. He was 94.

Dean W. Jeffers, general chairman and chief executive officer, Nationwide Insurance (1972-1981) (Photo: Business Wire)

During his tenure as general chairman and chief executive officer (1972-1981), the Nationwide organization reflected his sense of responsible corporate leadership and caring for people. Nationwide prospered under Jeffers, tripling assets and extending operations.

A well-known business leader admired in the insurance industry and the community, Jeffers left an indelible mark on the city of Columbus through his efforts to revitalize downtown, including the construction of Nationwide’s world headquarters.

“The central Ohio community and the Nationwide family lost one of our finest leaders today,” said Nationwide CEO Steve Rasmussen. “His leadership enabled Nationwide to grow into the great company it is today and his values set a course for this company’s commitment to the communities we live in and the people we employ.”

Jeffers was born Sept. 7, 1916, near Woodsfield, Ohio. Jeffers held a bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio University and he also attended Western Reserve University.

After marrying his wife of 52 years, Ruthe Workman, and beginning his career as a teacher, he started selling auto insurance in 1940 as a part-time agent for Farm Bureau Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (which would be renamed Nationwide in 1955). He worked his way up through the company with various positions in claims, actuarial, underwriting, marketing and field operations. He was elected vice president of sales in 1956, a job he held for more than a dozen years. Jeffers was named vice president of marketing in 1964. He was elected Nationwide’s president and general manager in 1969.

He later noted he was particularly proud of his sales role, adding, “Nothing happens before you make a sale.” He was often referred to as “Nationwide’s Number One Salesman.”

After taking the helm as CEO, Jeffers made the bold decision to build the new Nationwide headquarters in what was then a blighted area of north Downtown, near the Ohio Penitentiary and across the street from the current headquarters at 246 N. High St.

Jeffers believed Nationwide could make a major contribution to the growth of Columbus by building downtown and revitalizing the area. His decision to create the $80 million One Nationwide Plaza served as a catalyst for a rebirth that included a new federal building, the Ohio Center and convention center, the Hyatt Regency, Nationwide’s 280 Plaza and Plaza 3 buildings, a state office building, and most recently the Nationwide Arena and accompanying Arena District.

A distinguished leader and spokesman for the insurance industry, Jeffers served as a director of the American Council of Life Insurance (ACLI) and chaired the ACLI Committee on Economic Policy. He was a director and chairman of the Health Insurance Association of America, and a member of the Property-Casualty Insurance Council.

Jeffers made it a tradition to personally wish every home office employee “Merry Christmas” ???‚?? it took him three days to make the rounds to shake hands with 5,000 employees.

Jeffers transferred caring for people into community service, serving as chairman of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Ohio campaign, and the United Way Advisory Committee. He served on the board of trustees of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Ohio Dominican College, Ohio University, and Springfield (Mass.) College. Jeffers was extremely active in the founding of The Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at The Ohio State University and served as member of The James Foundation.

Jeffers also served on the board of directors of American Electric Power, Ohio Bell Telephone Company, Orange-Co. Inc, as well as the boards of Ohio University and The Ohio State University Hospitals.

His outstanding civic contributions garnered numerous honors: The Columbus Award from the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Governor’s Award, the Christopher Columbus Award from the Columbus USA Association, and the United Negro College Fund National Distinguished Service Award. He also earned an honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree from both Ohio Dominican College and Springfield College, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ohio University.

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