Years of planning came to fruition Friday as Sheila Sawyer sold Carl M.P. Larrabee Agency in Wiscasset to J. Edward Knight. Sawyer and J. Edward Knight President Rob Wheeler said it was a good fit for both longtime agencies and their clients. And Sawyer is staying on through year’s end to ensure the transition is smooth.
Three days after she signed the papers while socially distanced across a table from J. Edward Knight President Rob Wheeler, Sawyer said Monday she was feeling great about the sale. “And I’m getting a lot of feedback from my clients, and they’re excited for me,” she said in the phone interview.
When Sawyer started at Carl Larrabee in July 1976, she knew nothing about insurance. She went on to work with clients for both personal and commercial insurance and took over the bookkeeping. “When you work in a small business, you really have to learn all aspects of running it,” she said in email responses. She said the agency’s then-partners, David Soule and Roy Farmer, entrusted her to manage it and the building that houses it.
On Jan. 1, 1997, Soule retired; Roy Farmer and she bought Soule’s shares and incorporated the agency, Sawyer said. Over the next two decades, the two continued to work well together, and Sawyer served on the Board of Directors of the Maine Insurance Agents Association and as its president in 2012-13. “I was quite proud of the fact I was only the fourth woman to ever hold the position.
“Some would say I was blessed to have had Roy Farmer and David Soule in my life and I would agree. They gave me opportunities and I did my job. Now with just shy of 44 years behind me in the insurance world, I find it is the perfect time to pass the reins of the agency, including its wonderful staff of Trish Emmons, Joan Barnes and Renee Bernier, over to Rob Wheeler of J. Edward Knight. I am excited to tell you that Rob, Roy and I formulated this plan many years ago to simply make sure it was going to work for not only our clients but our staff as without either we simply would not have been in business all these years. I will continue to work through 2020 with the most important role ever of making sure that my clients and my staff transition smoothly.”
J. Edward Knight is also in Boothbay Harbor, Rockland, Bath, New Harbor and Vinalhaven. “Now our office is actually J. Edward Knight dba Carl M. P. Larrabee Agency,” Sawyer explained. “And it’s their sixth location and they own the agency now. But they are keeping the name, staff and office location.” The parties declined to give the sale price.
Reached by phone Monday, Wheeler called the May 1 sale a win-win, with Sawyer getting to pass the reins and J. Edward Knight “looking forward to many years in Wiscasset.”
“It’s a good continuation of our existing footprint (of locations), so it just made sense for us to do that ... from a business standpoint. But number two, it’s the people involved,” Wheeler said. He has known Sawyer many years personally and professionally, serving on committees together, and she was looking for someone she knew would take care of her clients and her staff, Wheeler said. Those are priorities they realized they shared, he said.
Her help with the transition is an extremely important piece, he said. Without it, “you lose a lot of that institutional knowledge,” he said. “And Sheila is so well known in the community and has so much energy, we feel blessed to have her.”
What’s next for Sawyer, after the transition? She still has many jobs, she noted. She and husband David, who is still in plumbing, co-own a mobile home park in Damariscotta and “really enjoy” renovating homes, she said.
She added: “I still have ownership of the office building and my partner and I are hoping to possibly do a project in the near future on the property.” Sawyer serves on the Cooper-DiPerri Scholarship Fund, is a directress of Wiscasset Female Charity Society and secretary of Wiscasset Academy High School Alumni Association “of which in 2021 I will celebrate my 50th year of graduating from Wiscasset High School.”
Sawyer is the new treasurer of Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce. And she said she has four wonderful grandchildren she loves spending with, “as well as their awesome parents.” Plus, she and David love to play golf and go camping. “And we hope to be able to take a little more time to travel and visit friends, relatives and check out places on our bucket list.”
The series of agencies that became Larrabee date to at least 1857, Sawyer said. She said Herbert W. Hawes bought it in 1900; Farmer, in 1953. In 1915, Carl Larrabee started an agency. Soule, a fellow attorney, joined him in practicing law in 1954 and bought the insurance agency from him in 1961, Sawyer said.