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Avocations

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William C. Sturgeon passed away on October 11 at the age of 95. Although he did not achieve the distinction of becoming one of our centurions, his legacy will be the numerous contributions he made to the elevator industry and to those of us privileged to have been a part of his life. This month’s issue of ELEVATOR WORLD is dedicated to the life and times of Bill and includes numerous expressions of sympathy and appreciation of his works by his colleagues and a discussion of the accomplishments of his life.

I first met Bill through the pages of a copy of EW I found in an elevator machine room in 1966 in Bronx, New York, which, coincidentally, is the birthplace of us both. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that this was the start of what would be a nearly half-century-long relationship with Bill. This relationship would determine the course of the rest of my life – not only on a professional level, but also (and even more so) on a personal one.

After reading that 1966 issue of EW cover to cover, I took pen in hand and wrote Bill directly, starting my subscription to what was, at the time, the only elevator-industry trade publication in the world. Imagine how thrilled I was to see my letter to the editor published in the December 1966 issue of EW, a magazine with which I immediately became obsessed.

For the avid reader like me, with a love of poetry and prose, the experiences Bill described and depicted in the pages of EW served as an example of how one could blend a necessary professional career with his avocations. And, this is something we will be writing more about in future issues of EW. I’ve since often quoted a well-known adage that states, “If you love what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life.” By blending his career with his avocation of writing, Bill lived in this manner, and I saw this as the path I wanted to take in my life, as well. Because of this, I could never thank Bill enough for letting me into his life and bringing me on board at EW.

So, one might ask (as a close friend of mine recently did), “how did you go from being a draftsman to becoming the editor of an international trade publication?” It was the influence of and friendship with Bill and George Strakosch that made this happen.

In the early 1970s, when George came to work with us at Jaros Baum & Bolles, our office became a routine stop for Bill whenever he came to New York City (NYC) or passed through it on his way overseas. One can only imagine my excitement when I first met him and took him downtown to show him the new selective vertical conveyor system we had designed for the Continental Center Building. Bill was impressed enough with this system to make it a cover story in EW. And, it was one of only two covers ever depicting elevator-industry personnel. Although I was shown from the back describing the system to Bill (only being recognizable to myself and my family), I was very excited to have been given this honor. Perhaps this was a harbinger of things to come.

Our friendship became even closer on a personal level when we learned we were both Bronx born and had a mutual fondness for Utica, New York, where Bill spent much of his youth and where my family and I spent many summer vacations visiting close relatives when I was a young child. And, with George (under whose wing I was at the time gaining a deeper knowledge of the elevator industry on a daily basis) as a direct connection to Bill, it is no wonder I was eventually considered to succeed Bill when the time came for him to prepare to hand off the reins of his editorship at EW. As I think back on all this, I cannot help but ask myself, “Who in the elevator industry has been more fortunate than I?”

In the fall of 1992, when a dwindling economic situation in the NYC area reduced the opportunities for elevator engineers and inspectors (which by that time I had become), I discussed with George, then Bill, the possibility of me joining EW on a full-time basis. Having by this time become a close associate of both men, as well as one of the original 40 recipients of ELENET® and a regular EW correspondent, it was determined I had the background and essential neutrality as a consulting engineer to understudy with Bill on a full-time basis in preparation for the position I now hold in the industry. The day I started my new career at EW truly became “the first day of the rest of my life!”

Since then, working with Bill, getting to know him as well as I did, and learning so much from him, not only about the elevator and publishing industries but also about life itself, has been a remarkable experience. I will always cherish the years I was so fortunate to have spent with him, and I can’t thank him enough for what he has meant to me and brought into my life, even though I continually tried during the last days I spent with him.

I often thanked Bill for allowing me to join him on his journey through life. And, during these sad days following his passing, I must also thank all of you reading these words for allowing me to share my experiences of Bill and for understanding the heartfelt sorrow I have expressed in this month’s column. I will also ask you to consider the 10 lessons he left us with on the last pages of his autobiography, More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir, which he completed in April. These lessons are reproduced in this month’s issue of EW (p. 39). Although we lost a great man this year, Bill will continue to live on during our lives in more ways than we could have ever imagined. He also made me feel he loved my sense of humor, so I will leave you with the following thought I know Bill would have enjoyed. To my ultimate mentor, I now say thanks for everything you have given to all of us in the elevator industry – me, in particular. And rest in peace in that elevator-less machine room in which you now reside.                                                                  

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