Don Sirkin was a remarkable man. He passed away on May 2, 2014 at the age of 86.
He was born in New York City on September 20, 1927 to Jack and Pauline Sirkin, who raised him there with his sisters, Muriel and Betty. After graduating from Union College, Don served in the U.S. Army, where by his account, much of his time was "spent lying by the pool in the sun in Panama." Near the end of his studies for a Master's in Economics at Columbia University, Don got into an argument with one of his professors and, "as a man of principle," he quit the program and began a trek, hitchhiking his way across the country. During his travels, he held several jobs and had many colorful experiences, including serving as a deck hand on the Great Lakes, working oil rigs in Texas, being a ranch hand in the Midwest, filling potholes in Yellowstone Park, mining copper in Nevada, working as a lumberjack, and selling encyclopedias. Eventually, Don's trek across the country landed him in Seattle in the late 1950's with "$5 in his pocket." He took a graveyard shift working at a hotel, which included room and board.
In 1960, Don married Harriet Hansen and they had two children, Eric Robert and Anna. Having the responsibilities of a family and an entrepreneurial spirit burning inside of him, Don started Data and Staff Service Co. in 1959 as a building permit reporting service. Shortly after, he bought a printing press and created a newspaper for construction contractors named "Contractors Weekly." Don and Harriet personally ran the press in the early days. Eventually, Don got his insurance agent's license and started an agency with many of his customers being contractors who read his publication. He also started a plan center for contractors. Combining these businesses, he marketed his company as a one-stop shop for contractors' needs.
In 1979, Don started an insurance company called Contractors Bonding and Insurance Company (CBIC). Don eventually sold his newspaper to McGraw Hill in the late 1980s and focused on CBIC. He truly loved his newspaper and called the day of the sale one of the saddest of his life. Don's passion for printing was evident as he continued to maintain a full print shop in the basement of the CBIC Home Office building. Any tour of the building had to include a 10 minute stop at the print shop.
Under Don's leadership, CBIC grew to become a national carrier for surety and insurance products. Don was always thinking of ways to grow the business. In 1993, he was named by Ernst & Young as Entrepreneur of the Year. One of his marketing ideas was packaging a license bond and liability insurance policy together, which is now known as Contrac Pac. CBIC ultimately grew to over $100 million in surplus. In 2011, Don sold CBIC to RLI to pursue other business interests, which he pursued with the same entrepreneurial spirit that carried him through life. Don was extremely dedicated to CBIC and was very loyal to his employees. He led a remarkable life and will be sorely missed by those who had the opportunity to work with him.
Please keep Don's family in your thoughts and prayers. He is survived by his son, Eric Sirkin; his daughter, Anna Pascua, and her husband, Roberto; and his grandson, Rolando Pascua.
An "open house" celebration of Don's life will be held Friday evening, June 20, 2014 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM at the CBIC Home Office building that he built in 1990 at 1213 Valley Street in Seattle (just north of the I-5 Mercer Street off-ramp). In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Don's honor to the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (http://lighthouse-sf.org).
Published in The Seattle Times from June 8 to June 10, 2014