Lunch with Marjorie: Sitting on the deck helping seniors with life

At my age, I was curious about Tony Torbey’s work as a senior adviser. We lunched at J.M.K. Nippon.

“I love sushi,” he said.

We enjoyed Miso soup until our Bento boxes arrived with blackened cod, California roll, dumplings, an orange slice and sticky rice.

“I’m 34. I was born in Tripoli, Lebanon, outside Beirut,” he said, with confidence that makes him magnetic.

“I thought you were Italian,” I said.

“Everyone thinks I’m Italian,” he laughed. His dark eyes animated.

“The most famous Lebanese is Danny Thomas,” I voiced.

“And Klinger from M*A*S*H,” he added. “I remember seeing camels, olive trees…mountains where my grandma lived…(she) would tell me snow was ice cream.”

His family moved to New Jersey and then Kentucky.

“We raised tobacco and chickens,” he said. “We had nothing.”

“Did you like being a farm boy?” I asked.

“I actually did,” he said. “Sometimes I miss it…baling hay. At that age, (you have) no worries.”

After four years in the Army in Germany as a medic, Tony took four-day weekends to Italy, Paris, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

“I’ve got a piece of the Berlin wall,” he said. “I went everywhere—22 different countries. You truly become a better person because you see how everyone else lives. You really realize…what you have. No matter what anyone says, it’s right here,” he points to the table, “a piece of America.”

“What’s better here?” I asked.

“A lot of people here take a lot of things for granted,” he said. “Over there, you see the haves and haves not…how hard people work for nothing…$100 for a pair of jeans that we pay $20 for. People complain about gas here. (It) doesn’t even bother me. Over there in 1999, it was…three times the cost here.”

Post-Army, Tony worked full time while going to college.

“From the time I woke up in the morning till I went to bed, I was either studying, going to school or working,” he said. “I got accepted into med school…a 23-year-old kid and (the Army) is offering to put me through school, pay all my bills, and give me a salary twice what I was making.”

But medicine wasn’t in his heart. He returned to Kentucky for a degree in psychology.

Our server placed our Bento boxes on the table, and we grabbed chopsticks.

Tony wanted to sell pharmaceuticals, but had no sales experience, so he sold copiers, then phone services and then insurance.

“I won’t mention (the) name…a lot of smoke and mirrors, lies,” he said. “It took me a year to realize it. I put my heart, soul and every penny I had into building a business, and it didn’t work out. But they taught me the business. I started to educate myself, to learn what’s in the best interest of the client. I learned how to become a broker. I’d go door to door…leave my house at 5 o’clock in the morning and get home at 10 o’clock at night.”

“That wouldn’t be good for a marriage,” I observed.

“That’s why I’m divorced,” he said.

“I’d go to farmers and contractors,” he said. “Farmers are up early, out with the cows. You go door to door; that’s how you talk to them. The first two years, I was putting 70,000 miles on my car—just in Illinois.”

“Do you see your kids?” I asked.

“I see my kids all the time…more than people who are married with children,” he said. “They’re why I get up in the morning. If I didn’t have my children, I would be a pharmaceutical sales rep right now.”

“Do you like self-employment?” I asked.

“I love it,” he said.

“Will you ever work as an employee?” I asked.

“Never,” he said.

His clients relate to him like a grandson.

“So you like old people? Ha, ha, ha. You treat them like regular people?” I asked.

“They are regular people,” he said. He can’t joke about it. I’m doing fear management.

“I look at a client, 71, and realistically think they could have 30 or 40 years left to live,” he said. “I think life expectancy is going to go through the roof. You’ll see people living to 120, 130, easily. We have a lady I finally convinced to move to Vernon Hills. Her son lives there. I told her, ‘There’s nothing here for you. There’s a community down there where you will have people around you every single day…you’ll be more active…people knocking on your door…friends and neighbors.’”

“It’ll probably extend her life 20 years.”

He advises seniors about insurance and investments. But, he gets to know them as friends.

He said: “It’s like me sitting on the back deck with a buddy having a cigar, having a Scotch, saying, ‘You know, did you ever think of tearing down that side of the wall?’ It’s all about relationships.”

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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