By NASH NUNNERY
If Rusty Healy had his druthers, he’d be playing his dream gig as lead guitarist for 1980s indie rock band REM.
But instead of basking in the afterglow of sold-out arenas and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Healy works in the insurance business as the owner of the Rusty Healy Agency in Madison. Channeling his inner Peter Buck (founding REM guitarist) got put on the backburner in the late 80’s when Healy gave up his rock career for something a little more solid.
“I’m still waiting on that call to play guitar with REM,” he said, laughing. “However, playing bass with the St. Matthews church praise band now keeps me involved in music and I love it.”
While a student at the University of Mississippi, he was encouraged by his father to take a vocational aptitude test to determine a career path. Healy’s family was in the funeral home business and Rusty wanted no part of it, so he agreed to test.
“The test at Ole Miss scored insurance sales off the chart.” Healy said. “But my plan at the time was to be a rock star, so I didn’t think much of it. I thought I was too cool to be an insurance man.”
After playing a few years in various rock bands on the Memphis and Jackson music scenes, Healy finally decided to enter the staid and steady world of insurance. He joined Nationwide’s agent development program in late 1989. Two years later, he opened his first office – a one room building that formerly housed a girls clothing boutique in the old Log Village development on Hwy. 51 in Ridgeland.
The walls were bright pink, Healy recalled.
“It took three coats of paint to finally get rid of it,” he said.
The Rusty Healy Agency has expanded a couple of times over the decades and today, Healy and his seven-person staff are located in a deluxe building on Old Canton Road in Madison.
“The first few years were a blur. Nothing but long hours spent looking for and processing business,” Healy mused. “I didn’t take a vacation for five years. Honestly, my staff is a God thing. The right person has always been delivered at the right time.”
Healy says some positive changes could be in the offing for the insurance industry.
“Nationwide is allowing exclusive agents like me to evolve into independent agents so that we can take on other companies to represent,” he said. “This is a very good opportunity, but will be a drastic change in the way we operate.”
Away from the insurance business, Healy invests his time in civic activities with the Madison Chamber of Commerce and Madison Lions Club. He’s also involved in the Kairos Prison Ministry, an international program that incorporates curriculum designed to build “pro-social character and behavior” into the prison environment.
“We play music and have full-day retreats in five different Mississippi prisons, including Parchman and Central Mississippi,” Healy said. “It’s an opportunity for the participants to re-consider their life choices by changing their hearts. Kairos is transforming lives, and I’m happy to be a part of the experience.”
Dennis Meek, who owns Richland-based CPA firm Dennis Meek & Co., has known Healy for over a decade. Both are heavily involved in the Kairos ministry.
“Rusty is one of those guys you want as a friend, a guy who truly wants to make a difference in the world,” said Meek. “We’ve worked many Kairos events together over the years, and he insures our (office) building. Whether he’s selling insurance, playing music or volunteering his time, Rusty gives his all.”
In his spare time, Healy enjoy tailgating weekends in the Grove at Ole Miss with his wife of 31 years, Ellen, and their two daughters, Nicole and Julia Leigh.
Despite all his success, Healy remains humble.
“I’m just a small-time ‘mom and pop’ (insurance) agency,” he said. “If a tree falls in your kitchen, I’m your man.”
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