By Patra Taylor

When Hurricane Harvey blew ashore along the Texas Gulf Coast last month, bringing with it category four winds and record rainfall of more that 50 inches in some places, the storm devastated a number of towns and cities in its path. As residents of southern Texas and Louisiana cope with the catastrophic conditions left in Harvey’s wake, finding their way back to “normal” will undoubtedly be their primary focus in the coming months. As survivors pick through what remains of their lives, many important questions are being asked such as, “When will my family be able to rebuild our home?” “When can I replace my car?” “Will my business survive?” and “Is my family prepared to face the growing public health crisis?”

Recovery for the many communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey, including Houston — the nation’s fourth largest city — will likely cost upwards of $190 billion, with much of that funding coming from insurance claims. For the victims of Hurricane Harvey, the ability of residents to close the gap between hope and despair often depends on the quality and amount of their insurance coverage. No one understands the importance of having appropriate coverage better than the team of insurance specialists at C. T. Lowndes & Company.

Since 1850, C. T. Lowndes has served residents of the Charleston Lowcountry and beyond during times of crisis, big and small. South Carolina’s oldest insurance agency, the company’s more than 100 employees work from eight locations across the Lowcountry to provide a variety insurance products to meet all their clients’ needs…and to help them return to normal as quickly as possible after an accident, disaster or illness.

Recently, Henry H. Lowndes, Jr. reflected on the history of his family’s company and why he believes it has continued to thrive for more than 165 years. “Charles T. Lowndes started C. T. Lowndes in 1850,” recalls Mr. Lowndes, a fifth generation owner of the company. “Charles was the president of the Bank of South Carolina. I believe about that time, banks were starting to make loans on houses and those houses needed to have fire insurance. There were plenty of companies writing insurance in the area, but none of them were local. So Charles opened the first local insurance agency and ran it until his death in 1884.”

On December 11, 1861, a fire started on Bay Street in downtown Charleston. With a gale at its back, the fire consumed 540 acres of buildings, resulting in what was likely the first catastrophic claims event in the company’s history.

According to Mr. Lowndes, upon the death of C. T. Lowndes in 1884, the insurance agency passed to his only surviving son, Rawlins. After his death 1919, the family business went to Rawlins’ grandson, Charles Lowndes Mullally. According to Mr. Lowndes, this is where the story becomes personal.

“Mr. Mullally was more into buying and selling plantations and other real estate than he was into selling insurance,” states Mr. Lowndes. “When my father, Henry H. Lowndes graduated the College of Charleston in 1931, he got a job with Mr. Mullally, a cousin. Daddy became the insurance person at the agency, leaving Mr. Mullally free to focus on real estate.

“Two decades later, Daddy bought the agency from his cousin for $10,000, a lot of money at the time. That was the only time in the company’s history that money was exchanged when the agency passed to the next generation,” notes Mr. Lowndes.

Passionate about providing insurance to Charlestonians, Henry H. Lowndes moved his small agency from the People’s Building that was owned by Mr. Mullally to 12½ Exchange Street. “I really can’t speak for the first three generations, but I do know that my father was a person of the highest integrity,” continues Mr. Lowndes. “He always held himself to the highest standards of honesty and he always provided outstanding services to his clients. That’s the standard he set for the agency.”

Lowndes says his brother, Edward F. Lowndes, II joined the agency in 1965 after serving in the U.S. Army. “After insisting that the last thing I wanted to do was work in the family business, I joined the agency in 1972,” quips Mr. Lowndes. “That was after I’d graduated from North Carolina State University and completed my active duty in the U.S. Navy. I became the sixth person in the office.

“I remember a day in 1980 as if it were yesterday,” Mr. Lowndes recalls. “Willard A. Silcox, Jr., one of my brother’s high school classmates, wandered into my office completely unexpectedly. Billy sat down and said, ‘I want to go to work for you.’ That was his job interview. Until then, Billy had been the tennis coach at the College of Charleston. Tennis was his life. But he’d decided he wanted to stop playing and start working. Neither Edward nor I inherited our father’s top-notch sales ability, but Billy had it. He soon served as the catalyst for the growth of the agency that followed.”

In 1985, Henry H. Lowndes passed ownership of the agency to his two sons, Edward and Henry, Jr. The agency restructured with Henry Lowndes, Jr. as president, Edward Lowndes as vice president and Billy Silcox as secretary. The fifth generation of Lowndes family was officially at the helm of the agency along with the first generation of the Silcox family.

Now semi-retired, Henry Lowndes has a clear understanding as to why his agency has withstood the test of time. “We’re a professional insurance agency that builds customer relationship through honesty, integrity and outstanding service,” he says. “My father’s driving principles are still applicable to today’s world. We’ve never departed from them. We've also remained an independent agency which give us more options to tailor products specifically for our clients.”

He continues, “I also think we’ve stayed on the leading edge in the insurance industry.”

T. Lowndes has bragging rights to being the first locally owned insurance agency in the area to operate offices in multiple locations. From the small office on Exchange Street, C. T. Lowndes & Company grew its six-person operation to over 100 employees working in eight locations across the Lowcountry and Myrtle Beach. “We were probably the only agency with multiple locations for many years, but now it has become common,” he says. “We were the trend-setters.

“We were also the second agency in Charleston to have a computer system,” adds Mr. Lowndes.

After the death of his brother, Edward and the retirement of Billy Silcox, Mr. Lowndes began wondering about the future of C. T. Lowndes & Company. After much discussion, Mr. Lowndes and his team decided to bring in a strategic planner to evaluate the business and help them create a clear path forward. “I think the sixth generation of Lowndeses with the help of the second generation of Silcoxes is going to do great things with the agency,” he says. “The business is in good hands.”

On October 1, 2015, Henry H. Lowndes, Jr. handed his responsibilities as the agency’s chief financial officer over to his nephew, Rawlins Lowndes. Then on February 1, 2017, he stepped into semi-retirement to make way for the next generation to run the business. Willard A. Silcox, II, who began at the agency as a teenager emptying the trash and scrubbing the floors, assumed the role as CEO and COO. Edward F. Lowndes, III and Chris Silcox are also owners in the business.

Two years ago, Mr. Lowndes daughter, Sarah L. H. Lowndes returned to the Charleston area and joined the agency as its human resources officer. “I guess it’s every parent’s desire to have their children work for the family business,” says Mr. Lowndes. “I’m delighted that Sarah decided to join the firm. With nearly a decade of experience in human resources, she has a lot to contribute to the future of the agency.”

Mr. Lowndes’ daughter, Alice Taylor, also works part time for the agency.

Mr. Lowndes, Edward Lowndes, II and Billy Silcox did their part to pave a bright future for the sixth generation of Lowndeses and the second generation of Silcoxes at C. T. Lowndes & Company. “Now the future of the agency is in their capable hands,” concludes Mr. Lowndes.

 

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.