Michael McArthur Sr., 56, insurance agent

August 23, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Michael William McArthur Sr., a former insurance sales manager who worked to bring financial security to black families, died in his sleep Thursday night at his West Baltimore home. He was 56.

When a drunken driver hit his car Aug. 18, 1984, he sustained such severe head injuries that he wasn't expected to live past that year.

He was born in Baltimore, but, as the son of an Army specialist, he spent his childhood in several places, including Germany, Oklahoma and New Jersey. He returned to Baltimore and graduated from Frederick Douglass Senior High School in 1965.

He took classes at the University of Baltimore, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, College Park. Although Mr. McArthur did not receive a degree, he met his future wife, Arnita Hicks, at College Park.

Mr. McArthur found his calling within a tradition of black-owned and -operated businesses, choosing to work for the nation's oldest black-owned insurer, North Carolina Mutual Insurance Co. He began as an agent in 1970 and later became an award-winning Baltimore sales manager.

"What really drew him to insurance is that he realized that's the only way that a poor person can put something away for their family," said his wife of 33 years, who became Baltimore's first black female school board president in 1997. "He felt it was the one treasure - the best inheritance - that anyone could leave a child."

She said her husband kept a picture of an infant girl in the top drawer of his desk as a reminder of his life's mission.

"He talked to the [girl's] mother and convinced her, telling her, `You've got a little daughter. You never know when something's going to happen to you.' It wasn't about making money for Mike," Mrs. McArthur said. "Not long after he wrote the policy, the mother was killed."

Mr. McArthur briefly left the insurance business to work with his father-in-law at the shipyards and at Bethlehem Steel as a welder before returning to North Carolina Mutual in 1976.

He continued his education in the insurance field, completing advanced courses from the Life Underwriters Training Council. Mrs. McArthur said her husband was a "pace-setter, a sharpshooter" who specialized in fixing low-performing branch offices, spurring them from the "bottom of the heap to the top."

The couple moved in 1980 with their young son and daughter to Fayetteville, N.C., where Mr. McArthur became the town branch's manager for the insurance company.

Four years later, the family was on its way to a company picnic - two blocks from Mr. McArthur's office - when its car was hit head-on by a drunken driver. The accident put the entire family in the hospital, with Mr. McArthur suffering the most severe injuries. He was in a coma for a month, and underwent four brain operations and years of physical and mental rehabilitation.

By the end of 1984, the family was back in Baltimore, where Mrs. McArthur struggled to take care of her disabled husband and two children. But gradually, her husband regained his language and motor skills.

The Sun recounted the accident and its aftermath in an 1989 article that featured Mrs. McArthur speaking to students about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Mr. McArthur was never able to work again, but he volunteered at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Good Samaritan Hospital and at a food bank.

"Even in his disability, he is sweeter and kinder than people walking around with no problems," said Mrs. McArthur, who used to describe him as the Old Mike and New Mike until her daughter told her, "Mommy, it's just Mike. This is who we have now."

Mr. McArthur loved Motown, KFC, Werther's Original candies, school fund-raisers and Jeopardy.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, 3050 Liberty Heights Ave.

Mr. McArthur also is survived by a son, Michael William McArthur Jr. and a daughter, Stacy McArthur, both of Philadelphia; his mother, Lorraine McArthur of Baltimore; three brothers, Warren E. McArthur, Lewis J. McArthur and Stanley McArthur, all of Baltimore; and numerous nieces and nephews.

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