I was sad to hear about the recent passing of Burton Roberts who was purportedly the model for the judge in Thomas Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” My sadness, however, was on a more personal note – Mr. Roberts is probably the reason I ended up in the insurance industry.
When I was looking for a job in NYC following my graduation from Law School, a friend who had graduated the year before and was an assistant DA in the Manhattan DA's office of the Frank Hogan era, arranged an interview for me. It turned out that the interviewer was the gruff, intimidating Burton Roberts, then a senior assistant to Mr. Hogan. After informing me about the rigors of the position and questioning me at length about my background and aspirations, Mr. Roberts informed me: “Young man, you seem like a smart, pleasant person, but you are far too nice to be working in the district attorney’s office.” It was not presented as a put-down, but merely an honest assessment of his view. After having had several condescending interviews with “white shoe” firms (“We only hire from Harvard or Yale, but I told [so-and-so] I would talk to you, so go ahead.”), I actually left Mr. Roberts’ office feeling a lot better about myself. He listened and then gave what was probably an accurate assessment.
Soon thereafter I accepted a position in the legal department of United States Life Insurance Company, and the rest, as they say, is history. So, thank you Mr. Roberts, for knowing more about me than I did at the time.