Madison in the Sixties – In Memoriam, part 2 – business leaders
Madison native Thomas E. Brittingham Jr., son of the great lumberman/philanthropist, and a founding trustee of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, suffers a fatal heart attack at age sixty- one while driving near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, on April 16, 1960. A member of the campus Ku Klux Klan interfraternity in the early 1920s, Brittingham became president of the Research Foundation in 1955 and oversaw its successful investment strategy.
Two leading businessmen take their own lives in 1961— one due to failure, the other to success.
Frederick J. Meyer, fifty- one, founder and president of Red Dot Foods, owned plants in eight cities and thirty- five thousand retail outlets in twelve Midwestern states. On May 5, he merges his company with H. W. Lay & Co. Although continues as president of Red Dot and become vice president and a director of the Lay company, Meyer is despondent over the loss of ownership. On May 9, while his wife Kathryne is baking cookies downstairs at their Maple Bluff home, he turns his sixteen- gauge hunting shotgun on himself. The house is so big, she does not hear the shot.
Charles H. Gill, forty- nine, developed the west side plats Arbor Hills, Meadowood, and Orchard Ridge. But late in the year, he’s heavily in debt and in trouble with state regulators. On November 17, the Wisconsin Real Estate Examining Board suspends, then revokes his realtor’s license; on the twenty- second— the day before Thanksgiving— Gill drives his Chevrolet station wagon into an abandoned gravel pit in the undeveloped section of Arbor Hills and kills himself with carbon monoxide.
Death is good for charity in 1961.
Harry L. French, seventy- four, retired general agent for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and a civic leader, dies on February 2, leaving his half million dollar estate to create a college scholarship program for Madison high school students administered through the Rotary Club, of which he was a past president. William E. Walker, sixty- six, president of radio station WISM and other regional stations and former assistant to Governor Oscar Rennebohm, dies on September 14; when “Walker the Talker” falls silent, he leaves the bulk of his $900,000 estate to religious, charitable, and educational organizations.
Thomas Coleman, seventy, president of the Madison- Kipp company since 1927 and a powerful state and national Republican leader for three decades, dies of cancer on February 4, 1964. His son J. Reed Coleman is quickly named as his successor and wins the city’s thanks by promising to keep the plant at its east side location.
The late sixties are a tragic time for Madison’s most important private employer of the 20th century.
Oscar G. Mayer, whose visit to Madison in 1919 led to the founding of the family firm’s local outpost, dies in his sleep of a heart attack at his home in Evanston, Illinois, on March 5, 1965. He was seventy-six. Mayer was general manager of his father’s Chicago packing plant when his brother- in- law, banker Frederick W. Suhr, told him about an auction for a failed meatpacking co- op near the sewage plant on the north side of town. Mayer liked what he saw, and his father, Oscar F. Mayer, authorized him to offer $300,000 for the facility, which co- op members overwhelmingly accepted. A few months later, the company subsidized the extension of streetcar tracks from the east side to the plant, so its workers could get to the remote site; it also built fifty modest homes for workers. Mayer became chairman and moved the company headquarters to Madison upon his father’s death at age ninety- five in 1955; at the time, the company employed close to five thousand workers, about one- third of the city’s entire industrial workforce. Mayer and several executives, especially Adolph C. Bolz, also became important local philanthropists.
Bolz also dies of a heart attack, at age seventy- four, on November 28, 1968. The retired senior vice president of Oscar Mayer and Company was the meatpacking plant’s second employee when he arrived in Madison to manage his father- in- law’s new facility; it was under his guidance that the firm became Madison’s largest private employer. A member of the Downtown Rotary Club and a director of the Madison General Hospital Association, Bolz supported numerous civic and cultural associations. The St. Louis native served as an officer of the Army Air Corps during World War I before coming to Madison in 1919.
Three prominent business leaders die in under forty days in the fall of 1966.
Herman Loftsgordon, east side civic leader and banker, dies at his Marquette neighborhood home, on September 14,at age 84. One of the founders in 1918 of Anchor Savings and Loan and its chairman from 1953 until his death, Loftsgordon was president of the East Side Businessmen’s Association when it built the Eastwood [Barrymore] Theater in 1929. He was the first president of the East Side High School PTA when the school opened in 1922, and he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1925.307
Milton B. Findorff, former president, now chairman of the board of Madison’s largest construction company, dies September 19 after a half- century with the firm his father, John H. Findorff, founded in 1890.
Thomas H. Moran, sixty, an East High Purgolder who advanced from payroll clerk to chairman of the board of the General Telephone Company of Wisconsin, dies October 23, six hours after falling from a ladder while cleaning leaves from the eaves of his Maple Bluff home.310
Joseph W. “Bud” Jackson (pictured), indefatigable advocate for Madison improvements and implacable foe of Frank Lloyd Wright and Monona Terrace, dies on May 23 1969 at Colonial Manor nursing home after a long illness. Known as Colonel Jackson for his World War I service organizing the Army’s last mounted cavalry unit under General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing, Jackson was business manager for the medical clinic founded by his father, a Civil War surgeon; he left the Jackson Clinic in 1937 to found and lead the Madison and Wisconsin Foundation, forerunner to the Madison Chamber of Commerce. A devoted follower of urban planner and landscape architect John Nolen, Jackson was instrumental in raising funds for the University Arboretum, the Madison School Forest, and eighteen city parks. Bud Jackson was 90 years old.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, legacy memorializing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.