A section of the wall where Providence Speech and Hearing Center in Orange honors its donors is reserved for a select few “Giant Sequoias” of generosity.
Among them are John M. Word III and Edward “Rusty” Brown Jr.
The founders of The Word & Brown Cos., an innovator in the area of insurance services and health benefits administration, are headquartered not far from the speech center’s main branch near St. Joseph Hospital.
So, it’s not unusual for the two men to stop by Providence now and then, especially Word, who has been on the board of directors since 1976.
And such was the extent of their support in the capital campaign to add an adult services center at Providence – a $500,000 donation – that the $2.5 million expansion project bears their names: the Word & Brown Hearing Center.
“We can call on them for anything,” said Linda Smith, chief executive officer at Providence, which serves mostly low-income patients at eight Orange County locations. “If they can help, they will.”
That spirit of philanthropy is infused throughout Word & Brown’s more than 600 employees, who volunteer their time and donate to numerous causes.
It’s the reason why Providence has nominated Word & Brown the past eight years to be recognized as an honoree on National Philanthropy Day.
This year, it happened. The Word & Brown Cos. was named Outstanding Honoree in the category for corporations with more than 500 employees.
The Giant Sequoias are humbled by the award.
Said Brown: “We try to help out causes whenever we can. To be honored with an award of this magnitude is a big, pleasant surprise.”
Said Word: “It’s not just what John and Rusty do. It’s what our whole company does. We don’t have an official slogan, but I like to say we work hard, we play hard and we give back.”
One of the longest running commitments – two decades – is to United Way Orange County through employee payroll deductions, which the company matches 50 percent. Other incentives include free car washes, gift cards, catered lunch and time off.
Operation Drumstick has also been around for about 20 years, the brainchild of customer care director Barbara Lewman, who said that because of the company’s culture of giving, she didn’t hesitate to go to Word & Brown with her idea.
Lewman recruited colleagues to make favorite dishes that were served to employees who donated what they might otherwise spend buying lunch. The Operation Drumstick money went to help Orange County Rescue Mission provide meals at Thanksgiving, and in other years has also been shared with charities including the Salvation Army and Wounded Warriors.
Along with other food-related fundraisers, such as a Cinco de Mayo Nachos Bar, more than $35,000 has been raised under the Operation Drumstick umbrella.
“Our company is full of generous people, and they’re always thinking of ways to help the community,” Brown said. “It’s made us more successful.”
Word and Brown, both 60, share modest upbringings. Both are married and each have three grown children. Brown is the better golfer, they say, but Word has more grandchildren, nine to Brown’s one.
Word grew up in Missouri and worked in hayfields during his youth to make a few bucks. He came to Orange County in 1969 and established himself as a licensed insurance agent and retail broker.
Brown is from upstate New York and moved here in 1979 as the sales manager for John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Newport Beach. A few years later he started his own firm.
The two men formed Word & Brown Insurance Administrators in 1985, pairing Word’s innovative quoting system with Brown’s distribution network. Over the years, the company expanded into several distinct entities whose services reach more than 6 million workers through some 60,000 employers and 50,000 brokers.
From the get-go, Word and Brown made philanthropy part of their company ethos.
“It feels good to help people out. It just does,” said Word, who lives in Newport Beach. “We have been fortunate. We have been blessed. We’ve done really well in the county, and we’re proud to be here.”
Mission Hospital Foundation is another major recipient of Word & Brown’s largesse. Brown, who lives in Irvine, has a special reason: In 1985, his oldest son was hit by a car near home. He was 6 and remained in a coma for seven days.
“They couldn’t do enough to try to make him comfortable,” Brown says of the hospital’s trauma center staff. “I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Mission Hospital.”