John William Overton, Jr., or “Big O”, as friends and family knew him, was born in Wedowee, Alabama on March 20, 1913.
It seems he was destined to have some involvement with road building in Alabama. His father John, Sr. was one of the chief figures at the Good Roads Congress.
As a member of the Alabama State Senate, his father acquired the title of “the apostle of good roads,” by initiating the “Good Roads” movement in Alabama at a time when automobiles were coming into greater use.
He attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn, was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and had a lifelong devotion to the school.
After graduating from Auburn in 1935, John briefly worked for the Farmers Home Administration until Turner Insurance and Bonding Company hired him. In the forties, John purchased the company from Tilghman Turner’s widow and quickly established the agency as one of the premiere surety operations in the United States.
Turner Insurance and Bonding Company, Inc. represented many noted surety companies, including USF&G, Travelers, Fireman’s Fund and CNA. The agency became the largest insurance and bond producer with USF&G, due largely to John’s commitment to the business, and his close relationship with USF&G’s management.
This strong relationship with both his contractor clients and the companies he represented, helped John to ‘’corner” a significant amount of business in the state. At one time, John and his agency provided bonds and insurance for approximately 80% of the Alabama contractors.
For years, the Turner office was always open on Thursday night before highway lettings. During this time, those road builders and bridge contractors in need of bid bonds could meet with surety company personnel.
John always oversaw these meetings and thus made sure that the contractor was well taken care of. This was his specialty…personal contact with his clients. This was what made him so successful – his genuineness and an excellent staff that allowed Big O to do what he loved best, being with his clients and friends.
John also realized the importance of being on good terms with owners that included the Alabama Highway Department, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and other government agencies. From these relationships he was able to employ people such as ex-highway director Guerry Pruett. His reputation in his field was above reproach.
John was also very big on personal relationships and considered his handshake as his word. He enjoyed hunting and golf and was an avid Bridge player. Clients never turned down an invitation to hunt with him in his “horse drawn hunting wagon.”
Big O walking through the Whitley Hotel with a turkey over his shoulder was legendary. On many occasions, he had his contractors and surety together to enjoy these activities.
John and his wife, Vesta Walker Overton were a very generous couple. Beneficiaries of this generosity include but were not limited to The American Diabetes Association and Auburn University where they were instrumental in the building of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house.
The couple also had a great love for their dogs and was strong supporters of the Montgomery Humane Society.
In 1993, money was pledged from John’s estate towards the purchase of the land and a new building. The current shelter on John Overton Drive is a testament to this devotion.
Support was also given to the Auburn Small Animal Clinic. John W. Overton Auditorium on Auburn’s campus was named for him in honor and appreciation of his generosity.
John was prominent in Montgomery civic affairs and served his Alma Mater on the Auburn Board of Trustees from 1959 to 1971 after being appointed by then Governor John Patterson. As well as his love for Auburn, John loved politics and was present at the inauguration of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Turner was always a member of the Alabama Road Builders and John and Vesta attended almost all of the annual convention.
John’s motto for his agency was, “A dollars worth of service for every premium dollar,” and that motto still stands today. His integrity and love of what he did made him more than worthy of the title, “Big O.”
John William Overton was the epitome of a “true southern gentleman.”