‘Average’ Title Guy Earns Industry’s Highest Honor

October 30, 2009

While Mark Bilbrey may consider himself an “Average Joe” title guy, the rest of the title insurance industry thinks otherwise. Bilbrey, a 38-year industry veteran, became the 56th person to receive the American Land Title Association’s Honorary Membership, which is bestowed by ALTA’s Board of Governors for performance of distinguished and meritorious service to the association or to the land title industry.

In learning that he was receiving the association’s highest honor, Bilbrey said he reviewed the list of honorary members and recalled having the privilege of presenting the honor to John Cathey and Jim Maher.

“Both were incredible people and visionaries,” he said. “Never once in my mind did I think I’d fall in that category. First of all, I didn’t think I was old enough. But I think I can say that we share a passion and love for this industry.”

Cara Detring, who also has received the honor, presented the award to Bilbrey, who is among 15 surviving Honorary Members.

“Mark thinks of himself as the “Average Joe” title guy,” Detring said. “He loves this industry and has worked hard to earn this honor by his determination in helping you make us all better. He’s a serious advocate. He’s a family man, a doting husband. And he’s a special friend. Not bad for an ordinary guy.”

Bilbrey paid tribute to his wife, Cathy, who is a 30-year title industry veteran herself. Together, the couple has represented ALTA at least once at each state association convention and ALTA function.

“The person behind the curtain has been Cathy,” Bilbrey said. “The award should really have her name on it.”

Adding humor to his acceptance speech, Bilbrey added some humor describing a joke that past president Mike Pryor once offered that referenced lipstick on a pig. “Well, it’s about how I feel tonight,” Bilbrey joked. “I feel all dressed up in new suit. I kind of feel like I put lipstick on a pig, and today I feel like a show pig.”

Most professionals are familiar with Bilbrey through his tireless efforts on behalf of the industry with ALTA. Bilbrey served as President of ALTA in 2004-5. Over the years, he has served as Chair of the Finance Committee, Abstracter/Agent Research Committee, Co-Chair of Title Insurance Political Action Committee (TIPAC) and as a member of the Government Affairs Committee and Nominating Committee for Abstracters and Title Insurance Agents Section, Title Insurance Assurance Corporation (TIAC) and Title Reinsurance Corporation (TRC). Just this year, he retired from ALTA’s Board of Directors where he served as Treasurer and from the Underwriter’s Section Executive Committee. He served on the Board of Governors since 1999.

“My life has always been about the “F” word,” Bilbrey said. “Friends is one of them, fun, family and faith. Whatever your faith is in religion is your choice, but you need to have faith in yourself and the industry.” Bilbrey also has been extremely involved with the industry at the Oklahoma state level, serving as president of the Oklahoma Land Title Association in 1993. Bilbrey has been recognized by his peers for contributions to the industry as recipient of the William “Bill” Gill Award as Oklahoma’s Outstanding Title Person.

“One of mark’s extraordinary talents is making people feel comfortable and important,” Detring said. “He gained a lot of friends and loyalty and he’s been an outstanding person in his community.” Bilbrey’s father was a rural mail carrier in Oklahoma, and according to Detring, met a lot of people who were needy. “His father did a lot of great things for people, and never did it for recognition. Mark noticed this and saw an ordinary man do a lot of extraordinary things for people.”

Bilbrey received his first taste of the industry when he worked for Jackson County Abstract. He then received a degree in accounting from Oklahoma University before moving to El Reno, Okla., and taking a job with Warranty Title & Abstract. He served as its president for 26 years before selling the agency to First American, where he became its national agency sales manager for several years. In 2007, Bilbrey was named executive vice president and chief operating officer for Old Republic National Title Insurance Co.’s Central Title Group. He also is president and CEO of American Guaranty Title Insurance Co.

In wrapping up his speech, Bilbrey once again thanked everyone for the honor and privilege.

“You have all molded my life. All my success can be summed up with my efforts in the industry and ALTA,” Bilbrey said. “The past should never stand in the way of the future. I’m a lot of the past and the future is Mark Winter (ALTA’s 2009-2010 president) and our board. I ask you to support them and help them get through this tough time.”

By Jeremy Yohe, Director of Communications of the American Land Title Association.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].