Amherst Magazine

Jonathan Gates '61

Jonathan L. Gates '61 died September 19, 2006
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Jonathan Leland Gates '61

 
Jonathan Gates with puppy

Jon passed away on September 19, 2006, after a two year battle with cancer.  Although his fight was valiant and his outlook always characteristically upbeat, his insidious and persistent opponent ultimately prevailed.

Family and friends take solace in recalling that zest for life which he enjoyed in full measure, always doing something of interest and conquering new challenges.  Danny Kaye once said, “Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint on it you can.”  That was Jon; a true artist of paint throwing and life living.

Jock (his nickname then) joined us from Weston High, described there as “an eager athlete, fun loving, sociable, hard worker, sensible,” all of which remained apt throughout his life.  As a baseball catcher, he drove ’em crazy with his jokes and chatter.

In college, Jon focused on football—as field goal kicker, he made possible the Delaware upset by making two points after touchdown to the opponent’s none.  All who were on board remember the raucous plane ride home.  Sophomore year in Pratt he took up giving haircuts, at favorable prices, thus winning his “Sweeps” or “Sweeper” nickname.  Jon was also on the crew delivering sandwiches to late night crammers.  The brothers of Beta enjoyed his good humor.

Blythe and Jon met in the ninth grade and, thus, were together for fifty-three years.  Many will remember her with Jon at College functions.  Together, they went on to Rutgers where Jon earned his MBA.  Later he took courses in advanced accounting and security analysis at the Stern Business School at NYU.    

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Beginning with Arthur Young and Co., Jon held controller, vice president and CFO positions at R. J. Reynolds Foods, Reliance Group, Gulf & Western and several other companies.

As a true extrovert who loved people, in the 1980s he became involved with a therapeutic center in Norwalk committed to helping troubled teens.  Jon taught courses on life coping skills such as basic financial planning, record keeping and dressing for business success.  For many years he served on the board of a substance abuse organization with several auxiliaries, again applying his financial acumen and good humor to prepare its clients for the outside world.  When asked how a meeting or session had gone, he would often smile and reply, “Well, I loosened ’em up a bit.”  He knew that getting things done seemed easier when some humor was applied.

Showing his diversified interests, he served on the ski patrol at Bromley Mountain for years and loved Florida kayaking, Caribbean scuba diving, pheasant shooting in Scotland (with a diving friend) and fly fishing.  He belonged to Trout Unlimited and the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich, both for camaraderie and for the good works done by each group.

In 1980, Jon masterminded construction of a log house in Vermont, heated by wood harvested from the land on which it stands plus other tracts he quietly acquired beginning in the ’60s.  He enhanced this retreat from corporate stress by planting flowers, vegetable gardens and blueberry bushes, and by creating two ponds stocked with trout (of course).  His sense of humor often took a practical turn—Blythe still cherishes the chainsaw she received as a Christmas or anniversary present (the story varies), although she thought that big box was an appliance.  Jon quipped, “The better to work the land, my dear.”

A more recent wildlife interest was rebuilding the osprey population in Connecticut.  This led to negotiations with Audubon over pole locations, a campaign to educate the neighbors in the cove via a newsletter and eventually to designing and installing an improved nesting platform.

His last effort was a third Vermont pond, completed just in time for him to walk around it a few days before he died.

Adjusting to life without Jon will be difficult for Blythe, daughter Melanie and son Ashley.
    
—Blythe Gates
with input from Jim Greene

 

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