Chris Hamilton confesses that when he was young, he never thought of becoming an insurance agent. He wanted to be a baseball player, but when you have kids and you’re young, baseball is not going to happen. “Baseball was not in the cards.”
What was in the cards for Chris Hamilton remained to be seen.
He remembers high school as the golden years of his youth, a time when he played football, ran track and wrestled. At Wooster High School in Reno, Nevada, he fondly recalls two camps of kids. The heads smoked, loafed and did drugs. The other camp, the jocks, were the kids most like him. Regardless of which camp a kid was in, Chris Hamilton remembers liking everyone. He thought everyone had something to bring to the table. A lot of kids liked him too and elected him to be Student Body President.
Reno might be a town where choosing the winning numbers looms large over the culture, but for Chris Hamilton, thinking backwards, sort of reverse engineering to figure out things, was a big deal. “It was just a thing,” Chris said. “Something you did.” He was very aware of how making good choices or not-so-good choices often led to a sequence of events that had far ranging consequences. Among the heads, he remembers the ones who dropped out of high school. Some came back after they tried running down a certain game and lost. And others you didn’t hear from anymore.
Reno might be a gambling town, and Chris Hamilton understood the numbers. There were six kids in his blended family. His mom came from a military background. Her dad was a retired admiral in the Navy. It was the kind of family where you could get into trouble for swearing. The family had a van with HGang on the license plate that meant Hamilton Gang. Getting the family van was a big deal because each kid had their own seat in the car.
He was given clothes every year and if they weren’t modern, no complaining festered in his very strict family. It was either take what he was given or go to work. His first job was working for Marie Callender's in Reno. Chris started as a busboy/dishwasher, then became a cook, and later head cook. He fell in love with the restaurant business.
He also wanted to go to college. Around that time The University of Nevada was building a separate Hotel Restaurant Management facility in Las Vegas. He started college taking basic classes at Reno. By the time he moved to Las Vegas, he focused on his major—Hotel Restaurant Management—and graduated in 1985. Working and going to school at the same time is never an easy stint. He worked for upscale restaurants, Steak and Ale, TGI Fridays, Bennigan’s, and Baxter’s, which had Coco’s Restaurant. Having a college degree earned him an extra thousand dollars a year.
In California, from Dublin to Pomona, he was promoted within Baxter’s/Coco’s and soon developed an expertise for turning around restaurants that had been losing money. Chris explains that often a surplus of supplies was stocked in a restaurant’s storeroom. The restaurant had so many supplies that they could still do business as usual even if they didn’t buy anything else. The experience taught him how to control inventory. “I brought it down to the bottom line,” he said. “Things started going better. That’s when you know you have a pretty good place.”
“Once the same customers keep coming to a restaurant, you build a following,” Chris said. Mike Scioscia, who played for the L.A. dodgers and became coach of the Anaheim Angels, came in all the time. And other baseball players from the A’s were regulars. Dave Henderson nicknamed "Hendu," who used to play for the Seattle Mariners, came in with his family after hours when they were getting ready for the World Series. Chris said, “I was just as happy about baseball players being there as I would be about any other person who was sitting there.”
Blond, athletic and bearing a sunny smile, with an upbeat disposition to match, Chris stood out in the crowd. People were attracted to him because he cared about the quality of his work and what he could do for them. Influencers in particular noticed him, a pattern that was established back in his high school years. Managers spoke to him as if he was already an adult.
Even when he was President of his high school student council, he attracted powerful people. On a student trip to Washington D.C., he met all of the state legislators, including Harry Reed, who was a relatively new congressman at the time. Then he met Senator Paul Laxalt. When Senator Laxalt came back to Carson City, he made a point of having dinner at Marie Calendar’s because he knew Chris was working there. “Those things kept happening to me—meeting influential people, but to me they were just people,” Chris said.
Then came along a major opportunity. A wealthy Canadian family named Clark had made a fortune from creating a recyclable product to manufacture shingles. Now they sought to expand their holdings in the U.S. by building a restaurant in Sumas, Washington. Unbeknownst to Chris, while he was working at Baxter’s, representatives from the Clark family had observed him for a week. “I later got a call from a recruiter,” Chris said. “The recruiter told me the Clark family wanted me to work for them.”
The new restaurant venture, J.J. Fryes, was an incredible opportunity for Chris and his growing family. Close to Sumas there is a quaint town named Lynden that was family-oriented, kid friendly and affordable. Chris found that the cost of housing was incredibly cheap compared to what he had been paying in California. Chris, his wife and young children moved to Lynden. For a time, it was the American dream come true.
Chris explains that he was hired to be the de facto boss, but soon found out that the Clark family’s daughter, who did not have restaurant experience or a head for business, was incapable of running the restaurant, yet she wanted to remain in charge. To make matters worse, the employees were stealing liquor and food from the restaurant. Chris put an end to the theft by changing the access to the areas where liquor and food supplies were stored. One day Chris got a random phone call from the elder Clark to thank him because he no longer had to write weekly checks to keep the restaurant afloat.
What was first an opportunity with the Clark family and J.J. Fryers had cast Chris into uncharted territory. “Looking back, it was a good idea but a bad idea,” he said. “I left a really good job to take a good opportunity, but it really wasn’t. I was babysitting for their daughter.” He and his family moved back to Las Vegas for a short spell but found life there no longer meshed with their family lifestyle. Chris realized his family was more important to him than anything else in the world. “We decided to move back to Lynden, Washington. I went there without a job and that was a little rough.”
He found a job at the Lummi Casino as a food and beverage manager. He was hired with the understanding that someone from the tribe would eventually replace him. At that time the Lummi Casino was little more than a trailer park. Chris eventually worked in the foodservice sales industry at the Casino, and later ended up working for U.S Food Service for ten years. The hours were long and grueling. His hard work paid off; he became a district manager of U.S. Food Service for Eastern Washington.
Then personal tragedy struck. After eighteen years, his marriage was over. He started staying in Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and in Yakima. He took an apartment in the Tri-Cities. His youngest daughter was only in the 5th grade. Chris remembers he and his daughter picked the same book every night so they could read to one another by phone. Then the company wanted him to move to Bellingham. They didn’t give him an option. For three and a half years, he drove 1,200 miles a week, traveling back and forth over the mountains.
In his next job with Pacific Seafoods, one of the company’s clients, the Ram Restaurants, gave him the opportunity to travel to Houston and New Orleans. Then another tragedy struck. The mortgage meltdown of 2008-9 created a ripple effect causing the contraction of the food service industry. “They actually created my job, but they let me go because I was the last hired,” Chris said. In the ensuing financial collapse, he was left out in the cold. No one was hiring.
You can do all of the right things, but then one day the lemons line up in the slot machine of life. “I lost my homes, jobs, cars, and all of my savings in 2009. I literally lost everything.” Divorce and job loss took its toll, but nothing was as devastating as finding out that he had cancer.
Shortly before he was laid off by Pacific Seafood, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Radiation therapy was effective but destroyed a lot of his body. It took at six months to get a new job. He let go of his apartment because he couldn’t afford it. Fortunately, a woman he knew from church had a room coming vacant where he could move in—200 square feet with a bathroom. He took any job he could get—doing security during sports games, working as a bath sitter for bathroom remodels—anything to make ends meet.
Even though the losses he suffered took on the epic proportions of the biblical Job, Chris never lost his sunny disposition. Even as a kid, he remembers always trying to be sympathetic to people and their circumstances. “I just want to help. I think it’s part of who I am to do a little more for them.” As it turns out people wanted to help him too.
He got an unexpected call from a recruiter asking him to interview for a job for Country Financial. He went to work for Country Financial selling insurance for about three and a half years. “That’s how I got started in the financial business.”
Through a friend, he learned of a new opportunity with Vault Insurance & Investments/Basin Pacific Insurance that offered a blend of selling Property and Casualty Insurance through Basin Pacific and Medicare through Vault. He took the new job with Basin Pacific/Vault Insurance and has since not looked back. “This has been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.”
Chris also sells for Aflac Insurance. Not to underestimate the selling opportunities afforded to him through Property and Casualty Insurance, along with Aflac, the rewards inherent in having the opportunity to sell Medicare though Vault are manifold.
No one better understands the full ramifications of what it means to have good Medicare coverage than Chris Hamilton. Health Insurance might take into account the actuarial tables of who is most likely to get cancer, diabetes or heart disease, but no matter what the odds are, a universal truth prevails: sooner or later we all face issues with our health, chronic or sudden, there is no escaping the inevitability of our own mortality.
The Insurance business has been an incredible opportunity for Chris to meet people. On the property and casualty side, he inherited clients. Working with Medicare, however, is different. People turn sixty-five all of the time and need to have the right Medicare coverage that fits their needs. People are done with working and are no longer under the same intense financial pressure. “It’s a more relaxed way to build a relationship with a client,” Chris said. “I am getting to meet and see the real person.”
In his private life, Chris embarked on his own athletic journeys to accomplish what others could not easily do. Getting a black belt in Taekwondo was something he really wanted to accomplish in the face of all that had happened to him. Getting a black belt is not an easy feat and require hours of training and practice. There are only 250,000 black belts—that belt that goes on to get the 2nd degree is 50,000, then to go on further from there is 10,000 and beyond that there to 1,000. Chris knows of a ninety-two-year-old woman who has her 4th degree—she is a master. “Lots of people quit, but some people want to achieve the next goal. I don’t have an end goal,” Chris said.
The first time he summited Mt. Shasta, he took the more challenging route. He was the first in his family to take the Clear Creek Route, which is the less pretty side of the mountain and a difficult climb. “It meant a lot to my family.” His dad, who had been born in McCloud, had climbed the mountain four times and summited twice. His aunt summited the mountain once of the two times she climbed. His uncle summited once or twice and his grandfather summited thirty or forty times. “He raced up there,” Chris said. “He was a scout.” The day Chris gained access to climb the mountain via the Clear Creek Route, he made it the whole way and summited. It was August 2019 and he had been cancer free for over five years.
Chris did everything right. He took care of himself: proper nutrition, no alcohol, he took vitamins, and fastidiously avoided anything that could potentially cause cancer. Between training to climb mountains and training in Taekwondo, he was athletically fit. It had taken five or six years to fully recover from prostate cancer. Then the unthinkable happened, he began suffering from mysterious pain and a loss of energy.
He remembers training for his black belt test and training hard to climb Mt. Shasta. Even though the pandemic had hit, he saw one naturopath, then another who treated him for what they thought was a virus. He went to a urologist and again was treated for a virus. He took his black belt test and finished training to prepare for climbing Mt. Shasta in August 2021. He wasn’t feeling good and had a rough time climbing, laboring and struggling. He thought maybe he had overtrained. His stamina grew worse. He was still being treated for a virus and was prescribed a more intense dose of antibiotics, but his body wasn’t responding. He stopped training and chose not to climb Mt. Shasta.
Then in September 2021 he experienced a bad side ache and took ibuprofen to alleviate the pain. By the middle of October, the ibuprofen wasn’t working. He went to the emergency room at Swedish Hospital. The doctor suspected that he had a kidney stone or was suffering from diverticulitis. They knew something was wrong with his kidney but they couldn’t figure it out. Then they did a sonogram.
An hour later two nurses enter his room, then the doctor arrived and explained that Chris had tumors. The medical team was unsure of what type of cancer he had but were certain that it was indeed cancer. The pain on is left side was due to one tumor that sat on his kidney and had cut off circulation. Another tumor was in his groin and a tumor also sat on his back. They did not want to operate on his back; the tumor was right next to the spleen, and the same for tumor in the kidney—if they made a mistake, he could be paralyzed for life.
He was in the hospital the first time for thirteen days. The following Monday, the medical team determined it was testicular cancer. He had a total of five tumors, two were lodged in his testicles. “They were telling me all of the things that were going on in my body. Blood clots forming in my lung that they had to get that under control. I was a mess internally.”
Chris remembers his doctor waking him from a deep sleep and describing a long list of things the medical team would do—his treatment plan. He heard what his doctor was saying but it did not register with him; he was overwhelmed unable to sleep or collect his thoughts enough to fully comprehend all that was happening to him.
Meanwhile his son was in the Navy in Guam and happened to be in the nuclear submarine the USS Connecticut. His son had just gone to sleep in the torpedo bay when the submarine had been hit. His son phoned the hospital, but the nurse wouldn’t let him talk to Chris. (He was going to see if he could be allowed to visit me and come home.) He forced the issue with the nurse and insisted on speaking with her supervisor. “He’s still in the Navy but didn’t have to return to the submarine,” Chris said. “I wanted him to come home. He’s been here ever since. He’s still in the Navy but has not had to go back to the submarine.”
About three weeks before Chris had been diagnosed with cancer, his daughter found out that she also had cancer. Initially she was being treated for migraines, but it turned out that she had a tumor on her brain. She was being treated at UW Hospital while Chris was at Swedish Hospital; although they were being treated by two different medical centers, they both went through chemo at the same time.
Chris had stage 3 cancer and had to go through VIP chemo that was administered by a medical team wearing hazmat suits. He was completely inactive for four months, spending one week in the hospital, two weeks at home—through four cycles of chemo. He was the shell of a person that he had once been. He wasn’t losing weight but the people who saw him said he looked ghostly. One of the saddest moments was when he was losing hair. “I decided to get it cut off. The lady was unusually nice. She did it so fast. Afterwards, I thought I’m bald. I sat in the car and I thought this is really bad.”
His last treatment was on New Year’s Day 2022. While everyone was celebrating the New Year, he was getting his last round of chemo. He remembers how much it took out of him. He could hardly lift anything. “I went to walk around the block. It’s a mile. I used to walk two miles. I decided to go for a walk. I got about halfway. I had to sit down and take a break.” His medical team didn’t want him to do anything until his next checkup in March.
When March came along, he was eligible to test for his 2nd degree black belt in Taekwondo and began practicing. In June he got his 2nd degree black belt. “My kids were there and it was special for me to have them there,” Chris said with a touch of pride. Then he started training for Mt. Shasta. What he was trying to do in two and half months was nothing short of miraculous.
At the end of August, he climbed Mt. Shasta, but the weather that day was like winter with winds of seventy miles an hour. Other hikers encouraged him to stay the course during the seventeen mile trip. He climbed to 13,000 feet until he could go no further. But he wasn’t disappointed. “I wasn’t that far away,” he said. “I could see the summit.”
Seeing the summit that day makes him remember another climb he made in 2019—that time he was with his son. They were at Lookout Mountain and could not believe how beautiful it was when they arrived in this one area, a wide open canyon under the mountain’s summit in a field full of wildflowers. “We could not believe how beautiful it was. We literally had nothing to say. We were just taking it all in, looking out into this vast, untouched land.”
That same year in 2019, Chris had actually summited Mt. Shasta. And another major event had occurred that year too. Chris lost his buddy Mario to cancer. Mario had stomach cancer that had gone into remission but had returned, settling in his kidneys, and from there, traveling into his blood.
“I understand the statement that Mario once said to me: ‘I lost my filter.’ I used to have a really big filter and worry about what I said to people. I call it as I see it now. I don’t hold back from telling the truth.”
Chris admits that he is struggling with losing his filter right now, asking God: “Why did you let it happen? I’m allowed to say how I feel. I should be able to say exactly how I feel to God.”
He credits his resilience to the things he learned from the people who made a big impact on his life. Long ago when he was first starting out, a manager at Bennigan’s sat him down and gave him a solid piece of advice: “You need to be open enough to be told that there is another way to do something that is better—that there may be another option to what you are doing. You’ve got to be open to change.” Chris never forgot that piece of advice. While battling cancer, he had to decide to live or to live better than he had ever lived before. “That was a strong mental and physical choice that I had to make. I chose to survive against the odds.”
Chris Hamilton has now been with Vault Insurance & Investments/Basin Pacific Insurance for seven years. He understands all of the risk factors that people face in life. Having grown up in Reno, a gambling town, he has always understood the odds. Bad things do happen to good people. Aside from providing help with home, and auto insurance, and Medicare, he also has a special practice helping small veterinarian companies. He, more than anyone, knows that the onset of health episodes can be a sudden attack, a silent marauder advancing from nowhere. “I want to do the best for the people who I work with. I’m driven to do the best that I can for everybody. That’s my responsibility.”
NOTE about MEDICARE: According to Chris Hamilton, “the best thing I have learned about Medicare is that this is not your last health care decision.” He recounts the story of an eighty-year-old woman who first chose her plan at age sixty-five and thought she could not make a change. “You’re not making your final decision,” Chris said. “The wonderful thing about Medicare is that people get to pick an insurance for themselves. There are hundreds of choices, which is why it is so important to pick the best program that meets your needs. Start with the medications that you need to take. Do you like your doctor? These and your answers to other questions help to create the best Medicare program for you.”