Gerald “Jerry” Maatman

Making a Big Swing for Illinois Tech Athletics

Joe Giovannetti

In 1988 Gerald “Jerry” Maatman (FPE ’51) invited his industry’s most powerful critic out for dinner. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, was a lobbyist with a thick Rolodex and a grudge against auto insurers such as Kemper National Insurance Company, where Maatman had recently been appointed chief executive officer.

Maatman took a big swing that day, one that he hoped would help insurers and public interest groups bury the hatchet for good. By the time Maatman and Claybrook had finished their meal, they had formed a partnership that would go on to save hundreds of thousands of lives. Did he have any idea the conversation would go so well?

“Hell no,” says Maatman, with his characteristic candor and humility. But big swings have always been Maatman’s specialty.

Born in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, Maatman was a bright student who finished high school at 16. As a first-year student at Illinois Institute of Technology, he went out for varsity baseball. He was featured in Tech News that same year for clouting the Scarlet Hawks’ first home run of the season, the first of many school newspaper reports on “Jerry Maatman, Star Outfielder.”

After graduation Maatman went to work for the Illinois Inspection and Rating Bureau, which had funded his education with a scholarship. He enjoyed his time there, but by 1958, Maatman returned to Illinois Tech, for what turned out to be another big swing, as an associate professor and chair of the fire protection engineering department. Around the same time, he was summoned to Chicago City Hall to meet with Mayor Richard J. Daley.

“He felt it was time to overhaul the fire protection codes for the entire city,” Maatman recalls, “in part because he was irritated that New York had a better rating than Chicago.”

Daley hired him as a consultant and adopted many of his suggestions to update fire safety standards to make buildings and their occupants safer.

By 1966 Maatman ended his teaching career to join Kemper as chief engineer, responsible for providing fire safety guidance as a service to policyholders; he retired from the company in 1995 as chair and CEO.

But his proudest achievement began at his dinner with Claybrook. Maatman knew that even though auto insurance rates seemed high to consumer advocates, rates were actually undervalued in many states. Regardless, as a former government official in the Carter administration, Claybrook could use her influence in Washington, D.C., to put insurers into regulatory hot water.

Maatman had the data to prove that the fatality rates of automobile accidents, not insurance rates, were the problem. He proposed the formation of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a lobbying organization dedicated to highway safety. Maatman recruited eight other insurers to fund the enterprise, while Claybrook recruited eight other public interest groups to staff AHAS and work on policy proposals.

The organization, still active today, has had tremendous success in shaping public policy. It lobbied for mandatory airbags and rollover cages in automobiles, mandatory motorcycle helmets, and other safety standards, including a 0.08 percent blood alcohol limit for motor vehicle operators.

Much as he had shown in baseball, Maatman possesses the qualities of an ideal teammate: he is selfless, serious, high-achieving, and creative. These qualities are what spurred his success, from center field to the C-suite, and are those that his former coach Ed Glancy saw that convinced him to put a 16-year-old first-year student on the Scarlet Hawks roster.

“I’ve always been proud of having been an engineering student at [Illinois Tech],” says Maatman. “[Illinois Tech] goes out of its way to offer a high-quality education for outstanding students, some of whom otherwise might not go to college at all.”

Maatman’s planned gift will benefit the Illinois Tech baseball team, supporting the same proving ground where he learned to take big swings. Students will have the opportunity to develop the same qualities of integrity, excellence, and collaboration that Illinois Tech Athletics nurtured in Jerry Maatman.

Photo: Marian Quirk
Jeanne and John Rowe Endowed Professor in the College of Architecture John Ronan [left] with Gerald “Jerry” Maatman (FPE ’51)