James Street, the All-American Settlement Planner

Remembering James Street, the All-American Settlement Planner


Don McNay's
Weekly Column

Due to overwhelming response, we are moving the upcoming Life Lessons from Cancer kickoff event to a bigger venue and a different time. It is now in the Pavilion A auditorium of the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital from 5-6:30 p.m.

Several people have asked for detailed directions to the event today.  Here is more information, along with a link to a 16 page PDF that describes the facility in full:

October 14 will mark almost exactly three years from the day that Keen Babbage walked into the University of Kentucky UK Markey Cancer Center. He and Laura will tell the story of what took place to allow him to be here. They will be on hand to sign books for sale as well.

James Street, the All-American Settlement Planner


"Be young and wild and free

Like Texas in 1880"

-Radney Foster


For 20 years, my definition of a true Texan has been James Street. Fun with boundless ambition and the ultimate competitor. The kind of guy who lit up a room with positive energy and inspired everyone else around him.


A true leader.


When James suddenly passed away at the age of 65, it was a major story around the globe. Almost all of the ink focused on his success as one of the greatest sports legends in the history of Texas. As quarterback of the University of Texas national championship team and the last baseball pitcher to pitch a perfect game in the Southwest Conference, Street was a true hero.


The stories usually stopped when James was 22 years old. They missed the great story of what James accomplished after sports ended and business life began. He built one of the most successful structured settlement and settlement planning firms in the United States.


The structured settlement industry has an interesting history.


Although structured settlement annuities have been called "one of the greatest financial planning tools ever invented" because of their ability to provide tax free income, offer lifetime payments and be set up in a flexible fashion, the people who invented the concept in the early 1980s were executives in major insurance claims organizations and saw them strictly as a tool for settling claims.


Financial planners were strongly discouraged from being involved in structured settlements. I was lucky that I did not know that. I came out of graduate school at Vanderbilt in 1982 and entered the financial planning business. I got into structured settlements the next year and one the first attorneys to send me business was one of America's greatest trial lawyers, Peter Perlman, from Lexington, Kentucky.


After a decade, without associates or a larger organization, a visionary Californian named Dave Snyder called me. Dave found most of the financial planners in the country active or interested in structured settlements and organized a group.


That is where I met James Street.


Dave had this incredibly mind-numbing idea to give about 10 different life insurance companies one hour each, to explain how they might differentiate themselves in some way from the other nine companies. It was like sitting through 10 consecutive hours of college algebra. You could watch people starting to doze off. A presenter was noting famous people who had been that carrier's clients and said, "What do these historic figures (I think one was the King of Hawaii) have in common?" James yelled out, "They're dead!"


The first levity we had in hours, and I knew right away that Street was a kindred spirit. I introduced myself, wound up having a multi-hour dinner with him and his partner and we all became great friends.


Being a Kentuckian, 11 years younger, I really didn't know who Street was. I heard he had played football, but a lot of people play football. Not many played it like Street did.


The one place I was not going to find out about his football career was through James Street. I learned a lot about the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game in a section of Bill Clinton's autobiography and a terrific book called Hogs, Horns and Nixon Coming: Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand by Terry Frei. 

James went to great lengths to avoid talking about his football days. I think it was beat into his head by his mentor, the great Texas football coach Darrell Royal, that you put the past behind you and think about the future.


It took about 20 years and a lot of direct questions to get much information from him about his glory years. He loosened up a little when his son Huston Street became rookie of the year in major league baseball, but James wanted to focus on where life was headed, not where he had been.


The fact that I did not live in Texas made it easier for him to avoid the topic. It was impossible otherwise. I once flew to Austin to spend the day with him and couldn't find him at the airport. Finally, I saw the mob of people around him getting autographs.


James loved to talk and it was not unusual for him to call me as his car pulled out of Houston and still be in the phone, sitting in his driveway in Austin, four or five hours later.


James tried to downplay his intelligence, but it was impossible for him to downplay his incredible personality.


One of the most charismatic leaders I have ever met, Street was driven by the absolute self confidence that he could achieve anything he set his mind to doing.


He and I were working together on an extremely difficult and large mass tort claim and it looked like we had hit a roadblock. In one of the rare times he referenced his football days, he looked at me and said, "I decided when I was a junior in high school that I would never lose another football game and I never did. We will get past this, too."


We did. I couldn't quite believe that he had never quarterbacked a losing football game. I looked it up. He never did.


He played on great teams, but I suspect James got his team to focus and play to the maximum of their ability.


I know he did that in business.


That extreme self confidence also allowed him to beat back a bigger opponent than football: alcoholism. His obituary in the Austin newspaper referenced that James had been a recovering alcoholic for the past 35 years.


Having spent a lifetime fighting food addictions and developing an affinity for people with their own addictions, I long suspected that he was recovering, but he never mentioned it once. I knew that James did not drink and would do a "drive by" appearance at events where people were drinking heavily. Often he would park in the hallway outside a big reception to hang out and talk.

After awhile, people would drift out of the reception and join the conversation. Eventually the group in the hall would be bigger than the group inside.


James didn't have to go to the party. The party came to him.


We did not stay in the same group too long. Dave Snyder had a terrific idea that spawned some of the best known people in the settlement planning business, like Paul Lesti and Mark Walhstrom, but most were too independent to belong to a larger company and all formed their own groups.


The James Street Group is now one of the largest structured settlement firms in the country. I wrote a book called Life Lessons from the Lottery about why people like lottery winners and professional athletes run through their money in a short period of time.


It stunned me that so many pro athletes went broke. They have agents and decades of discipline and focus.


I guess I was expecting them all to be like James Street. His took the leadership skills and confidence and used them the rest of his life. He knew how to find good people and was generous in sharing money and glory. I had a lot of business deals with him and all were on a handshake or a phone call.


Several documentaries studied why athletes go broke. They may want to go back and study James Street on what to do right.


James and I shared a common vision of where we thought the structured settlement business would go and in the late 1990s, several of us concluded that the National Structured Settlement Trade Association needed someone who worked with plaintiffs and plaintiff attorney on its Board of Directors.


Street was the obvious person to run, but convinced me to run instead. He was instrumental in helping me get elected. Each year, more likeminded people stepped forward and within a few years, the entire industry had accepted the concept that plaintiff and defense structured settlement consultants were full and equal players. It's not even an issue now.


James tended to avoid industry organizations, and over the past several years, I had done the same. That changed when the Society of Settlement Planners invited me to speak to their convention in Las Vegas last May. It was like déjà vu all over again as I saw how the concept of settlement planning is at the same stage that plaintiff's structured settlements firms were 20 years ago. All that is needed is for the gospel to be spread to a larger audience.    

I wound up joining the group and they elected me to their Board of Directors. I'd been meaning to call James and talk about the Society of Settlement Planners ever since. If you go the James Street Group website, "Comprehensive Settlement Planning" are the first words you see. If he was going to get active in a group again, this group was a natural.


I suspect that one of the reasons that James stayed away from industry politics, and politics in general, was that he understood how valuable his "brand" was. James was as comfortable having dinner with Texas Democrat Governor Anne Richards as he was with her successor, George W. Bush.


The one time he did weigh politically was when it came time to craft legislation to deal with companies that advertise on television to buy up structured settlements. The first state to pass legislation was my home state of Kentucky and I spent a couple of years helping other structured settlement people as their legislative battles came up.


As the Texas legislature was dealing with the issue, some kind of surprise hearing came up, launched by people opposing the bill. Street raced over to the capitol to testify and the legislative experts and lawyers from Washington came flying in to help.


One of the lawyers told me that when they got to the legislature, a security person stopped them. He asked, "Are you with James Street or with the other side?" They said they were with Street. The guard said, "Those other boys are going to take a whooping today." (Which they did.) 

As my friends walked forward towards the hearing, the security guard called to them.


"You know, he is an All-American."


Yes he was. In more than just sports.

Keen Babbage: The Flip Side ofBreaking Bad's Walter White


(Here is a link to the Huffington Post article.
Many of the pictures from the book are at the bottom of the page and you can vote in a poll on how you would react in Keen or Walt's shoes:Huffington Post article)


"Guess that's all I have to say
Except the feeling just grows stronger every day"


Dr. Keen Babbage is a middle age, extremely intelligent high school teacher who found out that he had he had stage four cancer.


Breaking Bad's primary character Walt White was a middle age, extremely intelligent, high school teacher who found out he had terminal cancer.


When looking possible death in the eye, Keen and Walt came to opposite conclusions.


Keen fought with every ounce of his being to get back to teaching in the classroom. It was the thing that kept him motivated when it looked like he had little hope of survival.


Walt used the skills he learned as chemistry teacher to manufacture meth and became a murdering, drug dealing crime lord. He destroyed his family and all that he supposedly cared about.


Keen was all about giving back. As noted in the last episode of Breaking Bad, Walt was all about Walt.


Breaking Bad was a huge success and considered one of the best television shows ever produced. It was a well-written exploration of Walt's journey into darkness.


But if I found out I had cancer or one of my loved ones had cancer, I would not sign up for marathon ofBreaking Bad; I would have them read Life Lessons from Cancer (RRP International) that Keen Babbage coauthored with his sister-in-law, Laura Babbage.


The contrast between Keen and Walt happens from the moment they find out they had cancer. At a time when Keen found that his "sinus infection" was a rare and deadly form of nasal cancer, his mother, Judy Johnson Babbage, was near death.


Judy was the daughter of Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson who raised Keen and his older brother Bob at a time when single mothers were a rarity. Keen's doctors started him on chemo at the Markey Cancer Research Center (at the University of Kentucky) the day after he was diagnosed.


Walt was slow to get treatment and kept his family at arm's length from his diagnosis. Walt's motivation for making meth was to make money for his family, but by the end of the series, his family was destroyed and his brother-in-law had lost his life because of Walt's actions.


Keen did a lot better than Walt in the category of bonding with his in-law.


His coauthor Laura Babbage brought a unique set of skills to help her brother-in-law fight cancer. Laura took a midlife turn to the ministry after a career as a high-ranking health care administrator and a registered nurse. She is the Chaplain at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.


She's spent all of her adult life in hospitals or medical facilities and did something in Keen's cancer treatment that made a world of difference.


She wrote about it. As it happened.


Along with being the CEO of the company that ultimately published Life Lessons from Cancer, I've been a close friend to the Babbage family for decades. Thus, I couldn't help but notice the daily updates that Laura posted to a website called CaringBridge. They were graphic, insightful and walked a line between emotion and problem solving. I started posting them on my social media sites and they developed a huge following.


They also became the core for the Life Lessons from Cancer book. Along with a series of terrific pictures, they give an "as it happened" feel to Life Lessons from Cancer that allows the reader to learn what the Babbage family did right and why on October 14, three years coming to Markey for Keen's chemotherapy, Keen and Laura will be walking into the University of Kentucky Medical Center to talk about their new book.


A fascinating journey in a life of fascinating journeys.


Keen and Walt have a lot of common bonds. They are both smart and fiercely determined. Keen walked from St. Louis to Cincinnati to bring a baseball to start the Cincinnati Reds 1980 season. In the death grip of cancer, Walt stole a car, drove from New Hampshire to New Mexico, claimed revenge on his enemies and tried to clean up as many messes as possible before he met his demise.


When Breaking Bad started, Walt was an excellent teacher and devoted to his family. Cancer was the spur that changed Walt into a monster.


Cancer didn't change Keen Babbage. If anything it gave him the push to understand that teaching and family are what his life is about.


Walt White is an interesting study of how a good person can go to the dark side, but the lessons that Keen Babbage learned from cancer are about values that we all should cherish.


I never met Walt, am glad I didn't and have to remember that he is a mythical character.


I'm really glad I know Keen. He's taught me a lot about courage and life. And now he is telling the world with his book.


Stay tuned for more from Don McNay!

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Don McNay Bio



Best-Selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Financial Consultant


Don McNay, a settlement planner and award-winning writer, is an expert on managing money and one of the world's leading authorities on how lottery winners handle their winnings.


His syndicated financial column appears regularly in The Huffington Post and in hundreds of publication worldwide. McNay also has appeared in several hundred television and radio programs, including CBS Morning News, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, ABC News Radio, BBC News, KPCC- Los Angeles, WLW-AM-Cincinnati, Al Jazeera-English, CBC Television (Canada), CTV (Canada) and Radio Live (New Zealand).


His insight has been sought by hundreds of print publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Associated Press,  USA Today and Forbes.


McNay has written four previous books. Life Lessons from the Lottery, Wealth Without Wall Street and Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery, have been number one Amazon bestsellers in a number of business and investing related categories.


Entering the financial services business in 1982, McNay was a pioneer in the field of structured settlements, helping injury victims and lottery winners handle large sums of money.


He founded McNay Settlement Group Inc., which is part of the McNay Group (www.mcnay.com). The organization is considered one of the world's leading experts concerning structured settlements, mass torts and qualified settlement funds. His company has been noted for its work with special-needs children, along with injury victims and lottery winners.


A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, McNay was inducted into the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1998. McNay has a master's degree from Vanderbilt University and a second masters in Financial Services from the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.


McNay is a Lifetime and Quarter Century Member of the Million Dollar Round Table signifying that McNay met the organization's highly selective standards for service, production and ethical behavior in 25 different years.


McNay has four professional designations in the financial services field.


Don received the Certified Structured Settlement Consultant (CSSC) designation from a program affiliated with Notre Dame University. He is a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and earned the Masters of Financial Services (MSFS) designation.


In 2000, McNay helped found the Kentucky Guardianship Administrators, which administers qualified settlement funds nationwide and serves as a court-appointed conservator for juveniles and incapacitated people. He is the owner of McNay Consulting, which provides advice for business owners. McNay is a fee-based insurance consultant for individuals and businesses in Kentucky and a licensed claims adjuster.


Among his professional involvements are former Treasurer of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and former Director of the National Structured Settlement Trade Association. He has spoken numerous times at structured settlement industry conventions.He sits on the Board of Society of Settlement Planners.  


McNay has won several awards for his newspaper column, including "Best Columnist" from the Kentucky Press Association.


Don is a former Director of the Eastern Kentucky University National Alumni Association and served on the Advisory Council for the Eastern Kentucky University College of Business. He was named Outstanding Young Lexingtonian in 1985 by the Lexington Jaycees. He is an honorary Kentucky Colonel and named as an honorary Duke of Hazard by the Mayor of Hazard, Kentucky. He was in the initial group of people named to Legacy Society at Eastern Kentucky University and has served on the University's Planned Giving Committee. McNay is a University Fellow at Eastern Kentucky University and a University Fellow at the University of Kentucky.


McNay created the Ollie and Theresa McNay Endowed Memorial Scholarship at the Eastern Kentucky University College of Nursing after the death of his mother and sister in 2006.


A prolific author and lecturer, McNay has spoken to hundreds of legal and financial groups throughout the United States, Canada and Bermuda. He has published research articles in Trial, Round The Table (the official publication of the Million Dollar Round Table,) Claims Magazine, Best's Review, Trial Diplomacy Journal, National Underwriter and other financial industry publications.


122 North Second Street,
P.O. Box 747,
Richmond, Ky. 40476

(859) 353-4598

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