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A return trip: Richard Parrillo Sr., CEO of United Automobile Insurance Group, receives an Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Following his mother's footsteps never felt so good. Richard Parrillo Sr. had the chance to retrace his late mother's 1902 journey from Italy through Ellis Island. But his visit included a black-tie ceremony, military honor guards and a fireworks show over New York Harbor.

Parrillo, the founder and chief executive officer of United Automobile Insurance Group, was one of 106 individuals to receive an Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition on May 10. The award is given to those who symbolize the American dream, and have helped cultivate their own heritage along the way through charitable efforts. Past recipients include the six U.S. presidents who immediately preceded George W Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Rosa Parks and Elie Wiesel.

"This rated right up there with anything that I've ever seen," Parrillo said. "It was awe-inspiring."

George Randazzo, a past medal winner and founder of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, nominated Parrillo.

"It would be too hard to put down all the things he's contributed," the fellow Chicago native said. "He's done it really quietly over the years."

Parrillo and Randazzo struck up a friendship 30 years ago when Randazzo was creating the hall. Randazzo needed to store his first two gems--Rocky Marciano's title belt and a bronze sculpture of fighter Primo Camera's hands. Parrillo made room in the vault at National Republic Bank, where he was president.

Over the years, Randazzo estimates the two have raised $7.5 million in scholarships.

The hall of fame is now in Chicago's Little Italy section, a block from where Parrillo grew up.

His father, William, was an assistant U.S. attorney during Prohibition who later did criminal defense work. He died when Richard, the third of his five children, was 13.

Parrillo said his older brother, also named William, was drawn into insurance by a family friend. Parrillo's family started Safeway Insurance Co. in 1959.

"Back then you could start a mutual company with $100,000," Parrillo said.

Four years later, Safeway converted to a stock company.

UAIG was a wholly owned subsidiary of Safeway until Richard spun off the business in 1995. He traded back his stock in Safeway in exchange for ownership in UAIG. He said the shift was part of a succession strategy for the family's next generation.

UAIG is headquartered in North Miami Beach, Fla., the state for which it writes 79.5% of its business. The company has maintained an A.M. Best financial strength rating of B- (fair) for three consecutive years.

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UAIG began writing policies in Pennsylvania and Indiana in February, expanding its market to 12 states. The company ranked 140th in property/casualty writers based on $307.9 million in net premiums written in 2007, according to A.M. Best. The ranking surpassed Safeway Insurance Group's position at 164 with $259.7 million in net premiums.

Parrillo, who turned 70 in August, said he still works 12 hours a day. He estimated he and his company give away $1 million a year," in good times or bad." He said it includes scholarships to The Latin School of Chicago, where his youngest daughter is a senior; tuition there tops $22,000.

"I have five children, eight grandchildren with a ninth on the way," Parrillo said. "We've been very, very fortunate. Nobody has to tell me that I have to give back. I know that I have to give back."
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Title Annotation:The Last Word
Author:Slavin, Al
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:577
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