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With Gratitude to a Financial Planning Mentor

GeorgeChellI was in a cab, returning to our ship after a day of touring Belfast, Ireland, when I received a text from my father: “George Chell passed away this morning.” George was my long-time friend, mentor, and former business partner. He was 92.

Fundamentally, the profession of financial planning comes down to helping foster clients’ well-being. The work we do is not just about investment returns, wealth building, or estate planning. It is about supporting clients in creating and enjoying the lives they want to live. Both professionally and personally, George Chell lived that philosophy.

I last saw George this past October, when he drove himself to my office and we went to lunch. We ended our lunch the way we always have done for the past 33 years, playing Liar’s Poker to see who would pay the tab.

In 1983 George and I became the first South Dakotans to earn the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner) designation. We formed Financial Planning Consultants, a partnership that would certainly be viewed as improbable today, as George was 100% commission and I was fee-only. The one thing that bound us was our passion for personal financial planning and desire to do the right thing for clients.

George leaves me with a lot of memories that span our 33 years of friendship. Anyone that knew him for more than a few minutes could attest to his uncanny wit and impeccable timing. All of us that knew him well have a plethora of stories to tell. One of the stories that encapsulates George’s spontaneous wit was when he was dining with a friend who ordered fish with a slice of lemon. George asked, “Why the lemon?” His friend said, “It gets rid of the fishy taste.” George looked at the waiter and said, “What do you have I can put on my steak to get rid of the meaty taste?”

George always had a joke. One of his most famous was: I was driving by Calvary Lutheran Church this morning and I noticed the sign in front of the church, where they often post announcements and service times, had this in block letters, “Have you sinned today?” Then I noticed what someone had written below that, in red lipstick. “If not, call FiFi LaRue, 343-……”

If anyone could have made it big as a professional speaker and trainer, George certainly could have. But as good as he was in that arena, his passion was helping others, both professionally and personally.

George taught me a lot about financial planning when the profession was in its embryonic years of development. The two of us made annual treks to what is now the FPA Retreat. The first Retreat we attended was the third one, held at the University of California in Santa Cruz. I’ve kept the tradition alive, having attended my 27th.

He also taught me a lot about life. George introduced the principles of the 12-Step program to me long before I knew what “The Program” was. Eventually, and due in part to George’s sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle influence, I came to understand the generational influences of alcoholism in families and to discover the support of the Al-Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics program.

Even in his final hours, struggling to let go of life, George maintained his infectious humor. I was told he would occasionally open his eyes, look around, and with the slightest hint of a smile say, “Am I in heaven yet?”

Thank you, George, for your many gifts. Your legacy of humor and integrity will live on in all those lives you touched, including mine.

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3 Responses to With Gratitude to a Financial Planning Mentor

  1. JoVayne July 7, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Rick – I just read your column about George. That was a wonderful tribute and so well deserved. Anyone who knew George would totally understand every word you wrote. He will be missed by all.

  2. Suzanne Carter July 7, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Many blessings to you Rick as you heal the break in your heart that the loss of George’s physical presence on earth has created. Holding him in prayer as well as he makes his way to his next adventure on his authentic path, whatever that may be.
    To quote one of my favorite teachers: GRIEF IS LOVE, by Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter.

  3. Joanne and Gary July 7, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    You are reaching the age where you reminisce about old friends as they pass. I know we are – oftener than we really want to lose yet another. In fact, recently, when reading a friend’s obit, we were moved to write our own!