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William Nahum Gates
Born, Elyria, October 17, 1857.
Died, Elyria, March 23, 1913.
"Why asketh thou how long he lived? I say he lived
to posterity; he passed away but gave himself to be a
memory for all ages to come."
COULD any words of modern phrasing express with such sententious force as this golden line from Seneca, the
fruitful span of years allotted to William Nahum Gates of Elyria? For indeed, his life was measured by deeds
rather than years. Elyria born and bred, he was Ohioan to the core. He was born in the beautiful, thriving village of Elyria, October 17, 1857, his parents being among the early pioneers. His mother's father was that Rev. John Monteith, who penetrated the wilderness early in the 30's, and erected the homestead on what is now East Avenue, which beloved roof-tree has ever since remained in his descendants' possession. His father was a rugged Vermonter, Col. Nahum Ball Gates, who came to Elyria in 1834, but removed the next year to Cleveland, thence to what is now Lorain but was then the town of Black River. In 1838, being elected sheriff, Col. Gates moved to Elyria and from that time was one of the city's most stanch supporters. In 1843, he was elected Mayor and from time to time up to 1887, continued to be selected for re-election, serving in all some eighteen years as Mayor.
Young William Nahum Gates was brought up with the highest New England ideals of industry and duty ever before him. He was given a good education, but instead of finishing in the high school of Elyria, he was sent to the famous college of Oberlin, where he could also have the advantage of musical instruction, as he inherited in a marked degree a family talent for music. After leaving Oberlin the youth joined his .older brother in Massillon, Ohio, working for a time for the firm of Russel & Company; but he shortly came to Cleveland where he was associated with N. Harrison, then conducting an advertising agency in that city. Three years later, in 1881, young Gates bought out his employer and established a new firm under the name of W. N. Gates & Company, Special Advertising Agents.
With an astuteness which is highly remarkable considering not only his youth but the then undeveloped state of the great field of advertising, Mr. Gates hit upon a vital principle of the business of publicity, deciding to specialize in a given field in class advertising—that of publications devoted to railroad employees and their interests. He was fortunate in securing the representation of the oldest and staunchest official publication known to any organized industry in the "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers' Journal." He made a study of the circulation and prestige of official organs and publications of affiliated industries and finally acquired what is known in advertising circles as the Gates' List of Railroad Employe Magazines. He became a recognized authority and a power in this special field. Mr. Gates was a keen analyst and studied the value of the circulation he had to offer to national advertisers—he knew its total buying power, its loyalty to its columns and he was able to bring the strongest logic to bear on his proposition when presenting it to manufacturers desirous of making their trade names household words. The business founded so wisely was administered so successfully that it soon required branch offices in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. The well-known Gates List has become in fact indispensible to such nationally popularized lines as Baker's Cocoa, Elgin Watches, Vose Pianos, Royal Baking Powder, etc., —in fact, the list to-day fills a unique position in the advertising world.
Known as one of Cleveland's rising young business men, Mr. Gates continued to get back to Elyria often enough to keep in close touch with his home town—in fact he always considered Elyria his home. By temperament and education fitted to enjoy the advantages of travel, Mr. Gates made it a point to see much of the world, making several trips of more than common interest, including tours of Russia and the Scandinavian Peninsula as far as the North Cape. He took a vast interest in life and found time for the pleasant things in living as well as the strenuous details of managing a big business. He was a man unusually beloved by his friends, having a huge capacity himself for friendship, and being the life of any social gathering.
As the years of early manhood rolled by, friends, laughingly but seriously, railed him on his invulnerable bachelorhood. He was even congratulated on his thirty-sixth birthday by numerous intimate acquaintances on his arrival "single handed and alone" at that important milestone. While enjoying such sallies to the utmost, Mr. Gates kept his own council. In 1896, he capitulated, however, and on May 12, 1897, his marriage to Miss Ada Laura Cook, daughter of Edward Leigh Cook, of Buffalo, was celebrated in that city with befitting pomp and ceremony considering the high social standing of the Cook and Gates families. On May 15, the young couple sailed from New York for a honeymoon trip among the romantic scenes of Italy's lake country. In August of the same summer, Mr. Gates proudly escorted his bride to the old home in Elyria, and continued to make it their summer home, spending the winters in Cleveland or in travel. In the summer of 1899, he made one of the most interesting trips of his experience—that to Alaska.
Mr. Gates was a born globe trotter. He was not only a "sight seer" but knew how to carry away with him vivid mental pictures, by which others could benefit as well as himself. His accounts of his travels were always of unusual interest and his letters for publication and informal lectures and addresses on travel topics found readers and listeners eagerly waiting.
In 1900 commenced Mr. Gates' association with the Cleveland Trust Company, he being elected a trustee on August 9 of that year. He was already a charter member of Cleveland's
Chamber of Commerce. Never inactive in any relation, his presence in the Cleveland Chamber had much to do with establishing that body's well-known record for accomplishment of the work it set out to do. Mr. Gates was a trustee of Oberlin College also. His townsmen elected him President of the Board of Education in Elyria. Like his father before him, he gave his best talent to the city of his allegiance. He was unsparing of self, of time, of money for the good of the city in which he lived. In later years when he was able to delegate much of the actual management of his advertising business to his brother Fred H. Gates, he found work enough to fill this created leisure, and devoted himself without stint to the welfare of his beloved home town.
"To create a more beautiful Elyria was the passion of his life" said his eulogist—and in the strictest possible sense this was true. He was jealous for the good name of Elyria, fiery in his championship, scathing in his denunciation of short-sighted policies or selfish manipulations and exploitations of the city's building sites.
Undoubtedly his nature was one of large altruism, although he was wont to say he saw the needs and problems of the city as. a home town because of his keen desires for the welfare of his own family of sturdy boys. He possessed his New England ancestors' realization of duty. He inherited the "New England conscience." He himself felt keenly the responsibilities of parenthood and longed to idealize the conditions surrounding childhood and youth. He believed in formative influences and pleaded eloquently for the human good at stake in every project for Elyria's betterment. He established—and with what untiring patience developed—the Elyria Home Gardening Association. He founded the Elyria Memorial Hospital. He was leader and champion of the Y. M. C. A. building fund campaign, which scored so brilliant a victory. As president of the School Board, one of his latest good offices was to personally see to the marketing of the 300,000 school bonds for Elyria. In the fall of 1912, Mr. Gates' health had seemed to suffer a change for the worse but he continued at his usual untiring pace and never seemed to think of sparing himself any exertion. He was determined to accomplish the best for Elyria in the matter of school buildings and undoubtedly the strain of this work at which he so faithfully labored for some months, had much to do with his untimely end. While in this condition of lowered vitality, he contracted a cold in March, 1913. The serious possibilities of such an attack were not thought of until pneumonia set in, when he was hurried to Elyria Hospital, which he had founded. Medical skill was powerless to stay the disease and in less than one week the end came, Mr. Gates breathing his last in the early hours of Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913.
Perhaps no death has caused such public grief, or come as such a shock to the city collectively, as this passing of one whom Elyria could so ill spare. He had been her main-spring of action and the city was not prepared to lose him—human frailty never
is prepared to give up those whom it needs so badly. The rapid progress of his fatal malady was entirely unlooked for by friends and family. All were stunned by the blow when it fell. As he had been the ideal citizen so was he ideal in all the human relations—the tender and dutiful, reverent son, the loyal friend, the loving, protecting father and husband.
Besides his devoted widow, Mr. Gates leaves a family of five splendid boys, his best gift to posterity—William Nahum, the eldest born and namesake of his father, Geoffrey, John, Edward, and David. He was a believer in the old-fashioned virtues and the old-fashioned home training of children. Industry in the home he declared, bears a direct relation to the pupils' industry in school.
"He was Elvria's idealist, a business man, yet a dreamer of dreams, a man of affairs, yet a seer of visions, the most prophetic soul I think that dwelt among us"—thus summed up his pastor and sincere admirer, the Rev. John H. Grant, of the First Congregational Church of Elyria who preached his funeral sermon. "He wrought at white heat. He consumed faster than he replenished. The sacrificial life burned itself out. But from it a light has flamed which—please God—shall stream out upon our civic life for many a long year to come—to brighten and bless the paths in which we walk."
Surely, the greatest success of which human effort can be capable is the ability to create successful effort in others also. The burning words here quoted in description of the undaunted spirit of William Nahum Gates were first uttered over his bier into the ears of grief-stricken loved ones and friends, and were repeated in the public print as a message for the whole city to ponder. Surely in them is an inspiration, an exhortation that rouses to responsibility every citizen of Elyria to take up and carry on the work so nobly championed by the city's noble son and benefactor. "The sacrificial life burned itself out." But not so with the enduring flame it has enkindled.
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