Schooled in the Classroom of Life

“Nobody understands the power of insurance any more than I do.”

Wallene Dockery Leek, LUTCF, LTCP, and her assistant, Michelle Behan, meet with clients.

At some fundamental level, people who suffer a major loss end up living their lives in one of two ways — as a victor or as a victim. Wallene Dockery Leek chose the former, with a big boost from a late-starting but lifelong career — as a life insurance and financial services professional.


In the 30 years she lived between college and entering the financial services business, however, Wallene got the kind of “training” no company can provide, earning an advanced degree in … Life.


As a student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Wallene studied journalism and was a member of the cheerleading squad. She met one of the Volunteer football players, Rex Dockery, who later became a Tennessee assistant coach. They got married in 1971 while Wallene worked as a television weather reporter and morning show host. The fairy-tale life took off as Rex rose through the coaching ranks, from assistant football coaching positions at Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Texas Tech, to head coach at Texas Tech and later at the University of Memphis, winning conference coach of the year honors at both universities.


Early in their marriage, however, Wallene was making more money than Rex, and she was taken aback when he insisted, after their honeymoon, that they buy a $100,000 permanent life insurance policy — 10 times more than Rex’s coaching salary. She thought, we’re in our 20s, why do we need life insurance? Wallene remembers thinking what a waste of money! “He was this young, healthy, vibrant, athletic coach. And I thought insurance was for old people,” she recalls.


Since Rex was busy being a coach, Wallene took over the family finances. Every month, she would fuss about the life insurance premium. Even as Rex advanced to much higher paying positions, Wallene still thought they were over-insured. Every time they moved to a new place, agents tried to talk to her about insurance, but she wouldn’t let them. Her standard answer was, “We’re over-insured; we have too much insurance.”


The Night That Changed Her Life and Her Mind


Wallene still believed that until the night of Dec. 11, 1983, the night that she says started “the second part of my life.” Rex, a university supporter, a staff member and a player with the Memphis State football program were flying to an awards banquet when their private plane crashed and they were all killed. The Dockery’s sons, Trey and Dee, were 18 and 8 at the time. “I can remember Dee climbing up into my lap,” Wallene says, “and saying, ‘Mom, what are we going to do? We won’t have any money — how are we going to live?’”


Thankfully, they not only had that $100,000 policy, but Rex had taken out every piece of group insurance he could through the university, so Wallene had substantially more than $100,000 to live the rest of her life on and raise their children.



 Life Insurance Love Letter


Wallene tells people that by Rex’s insistence on purchasing a life insurance policy, it’s as if he wrote her a love letter that she gets to read every day for the rest of her life. In that imaginary letter, Rex has said, “Regardless of how much you fought against this with me, I want you and my children to know how much I love you, and I want to make sure you are taken care of even if I’m not there to do it in person


“God has a sense of humor,” Wallene says, “because now I am passionate about life insurance -- nobody understands the power of it any more than I do. I got to stay home with those boys and I got to choose how I wanted to work.”


Wallene also decided she wanted to share the message of “it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s what you tell yourself and do with it.” She wrote a book, Only As One —The Words and Wisdom of Rex Dockery, about Rex’s coaching philosophy and motivational messages to his players. The next thing she knew, she was being invited to speak to sports banquets, then regional conferences, and even to insurance industry groups.


More Life Lessons


Life had more lessons for her to learn, however. In 2000, her 82-year-old mother suffered a stroke that began a protracted episode of long-term care — for which she had no insurance coverage.


Wallene and her sister, Mary Robertson, were in the hospital with their mother for 10 days after the stroke, and on the last day they were told to move her to a long-term care facility. “We had to find a place for her, but we didn’t know anything from anything,” Wallene says. “I drove around the city trying to find a facility. I didn’t know what I was looking for and had no one to help us. Once we found a place, every month my sister and I had to figure out what to sell to pay the bill, until we sold everything — and then we had to go through the Medicaid process.”


It was a 4½-year ordeal that she wouldn’t wish on anybody. No wonder she is passionate, in working with clients on their retirement planning, to make sure that insurance and financial products are in place as part of the plan. “I tell people, ‘No matter what your financial situation is, you don’t want to dump this process in your children’s laps. Let’s at least cover some of the risk so that an insurance and financial professional can help them make good decisions for you.’”


Job Offer — Declined


Wallene’s entry into the financial services profession required a long, gradual process of persuasion. In the mid-1980s, she met Jim Barrom, the sales manager for New York Life in Memphis TN. After hiring her to conduct workshops for the Memphis General Office, he told her she would be great as an agent with New York Life and a Registered Representative with NYLIFE Securities LLC. All Wallene heard at that time, however, was that she would have to sell...something she could not envision herself ever doing. So she flatly turned the job down.


Fast Forward to 2000


In 2000 Wallene married Tommy Leek, an old boyfriend who had been a cheerleading teammate at Tennessee. Tommy and Wallene were reacquainted at a college reunion, after he had lost his wife to breast cancer. After their marriage, Wallene moved to Nashville, where Tommy owned a business. Soon after, the Nashville Tennessean sports editor wrote an article about Wallene having lived there with Rex when he had previously coached at Vanderbilt. Jim Barrom, now managing the New York Life office in Nashville, read the newspaper article, tracked Wallene down, and 15 years after his first attempt, offered her a position in his agency again. This time, she accepted. 


Before Jim tragically died in 2003, he taught Wallene that she was not in sales, but in problem solving. “He taught me that role was to help people and business figure out solutions to their problems so they were working toward their own goals,” Wallene says.


She started with New York Life in March 2001. Wallene immediately earned the new agent of the year honors for the Nashville office in 2002 and has captured numerous company honors since then, along with qualifying for the Million Dollar Round Table many times. She also has two professional designations, the Life Underwriters Training Council Fellow (LUTCF) and Long-Term Care Professional (LTCP). She is studying for a third one.


More than that, she believes that her life experiences have been very important in her success. People quickly trust her when they learn of her experiences and how much she cares. She says that her job is simply to listen, gather the facts, and help solve problems.


Going Through Their “Junk Drawers”


“What I find is that most people have been sold financial items, and now they have a junk-drawer mentality,” she says. “Somebody tells you that you need this and you buy it — you don’t know why — and you stick it in that drawer. You don’t know how it coordinates; you don’t really know what it does for you. Really quickly, you forget the purpose for it., and over time, more stack up in the drawer.” Wallene asks clients to dump that junk drawer on the table. Then she goes through it with them to see what still works, and if the purpose still fits with their goals. She educates prospects as they go along.


Another reason for her success, Wallene believes, is who she represents. “I have an incrediby strong company behind me that has a history of recieving the highest marks for financial strength*,” she says. She often wonders how independent agents manage in the changing arena of compliance and complexity. As a career financial services professional, she appreciates having an army of knowledgeable, helpful people behind her, starting with her assistant, Michelle Behan, and extending all the way to product consultants and attorneys. “There’s not any issue I have to know everything about,” she says. “All I have to do is get the facts. And when I need to turn to my experts, I know that their solutions and strategies for my clients are correct and strong and will last.


After Wallene addresses life insurance risk management with clients, she turns to business, estate, and retirement planning.  “Especially now, people need to think about how they will unlock and distribute their assets effectively and efficiently for a secure retirement,” she says. Bottom line, she says, is to leave every client better off than they were before they met her. “My mission statement reminds me to run my practice so that decisions are always about what is right for my clients.


Her Passions Include Special Needs Planning


From her life experience, Wallene carefully chooses charitable commitments that allow her to network with people and causes she cares about. She established a scholarship at the University of Tennessee for a journalism student, and she serves on the board of directors of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame — in fact, she is the only woman ever to serve on the board. The foundation awards scholarships to high school senior footballers who excel in the classroom.


Wallene also supports a program that is very dear to her heart because her teenage grandson, Chase, has Asperser’s Syndrome. Several years ago, Wallene's son Trey and his wife, Deb, established the Dockery Foundation, Art for Autism, which supports art education for autistic students. Wallene and Trey, also an agent with New York Life, make presentations to families of special needs children about the necessity for legal planning, especially special needs trust planning so that they understand their legal rights and responsibilities.


Her Best Cheerleader


Tommy, her husband, works in sales and is one of his wife’s strongest supporters. She calls him her best cheerleader. Between them, they have six children and nine grandchildren. And of course, their family members are big, big college football fans!


*Standard & Poor’s (AAA), A.M. Best (A++), Moody’s (Aaa) and Fitch (AAA) for financial strength.  Source: Individual Third Party Ratings Reports (as of 9/12/2019).



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