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In Tribute to William C. Sturgeon EW Founder and Industry Pionner

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A look into the appreciation and respect the industry has for one of its most significant innovators, in addition to a list of life lessons he wished to share.

Since the passing of ELEVATOR WORLD founder William C. Sturgeon on October 11, many heartfelt condolences have been sent to the EW family – namely, to his daughter, Ricia S. Hendrick, president and publisher, and grandson, T.Bruce MacKinnon, executive vice president. The words of EW’s correspondents, contributors and friends pay tribute to Sturgeon’s generous and good-natured spirit, wide-reaching and enduring impact and eternal enthusiasm for this industry. We want to share some of them here with the EW community, along with photos that show Sturgeon at his finest, sharing his vision for the industry with colleagues both at home and abroad. In his own words, Sturgeon shares the 10 life lessons he revealed in the pages of his recently published autobiography, More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir. With the help of so many, we honor the life and legacy of Bill Sturgeon.

The elevator world is saddened as word spreads about the passing of Bill Sturgeon. If (and I think it is debatable) there has ever been another man who has been as impactful in our industry, it would have to be Elisha Graves Otis himself.

If you have “elevator” or “escalator” on your business card, your world has been affected by contributions from Bill. In 1961, he was chosen the elevator industry’s Man of the Year, and in 1995, the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) created the William C. Sturgeon Distinguished Service Award to be given annually to the member of the industry making the greatest contribution to its wellbeing. Bill is also a founding member of NAEC, the Canadian Elevator Contractors Association, NAESA International and the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation. The exclamation mark on his spectacular career was the founding of EW in 1953. EW and the elevator world owe Bill a debt of gratitude.

I am not close to the space-elevator design competition, but I know this: if the space elevator ever pushes up anywhere near heaven, we now have someone on the other side pulling.

Godspeed, Bill. Doug Witham GAL Manufacturing, Inc.

Bill Sturgeon has typed his last –30–, marking the end to one of the longest and most productive editorial careers. I would like to say that I knew Bill better than anybody, but he was the sort of man who left everyone he met with the impression he or she knew him better than anyone else. He was able to share his spirit, humor, intelligence and knowledge easily and quietly – when you left Bill, you knew more and felt better about everything. Spending time with him was as refreshing as a morning breeze on a spring day – always different, always new.

I suppose if I were to choose one quality that marked Bill’s character, it would be his internationalism. He was truly a citizen of the world. A most unlikely candidate for such a title coming from Mobile, Alabama, not generally recognized as the center of the universe. Yet his curiosity and unceasing digging for information led him to discover all parts of our world. He was very much American, but at the same time, I believe he saw himself as part of our larger humanity. National borders did not confine his thinking, nor did they define his character. That innate ability to see the world through other people’s eyes set Bill apart from the rest of us.

The large body of work and achievement left by Bill is well known to all of us, and I would think his enduring monument is the magazine. He built EW up over the years to the point that it is the unquestioned meeting point and gospel of the industry. And he passed the leadership of that organization down through three generations – not a trivial accomplishment. His work is there to see, and each month with each issue, a new memorial to his life is erected. 
The phrase “we will not see his like again” is often used, but it truly applies to Bill. There is no combination of time and circumstance that could forge the making of him. His story is unique to his time and place.

So, I honor Bill. The time he spent with all of us has left us richer. His passing has left us poorer. But the memories will remain. In the quiet moments at the end of the day, I will raise a glass to bless him and what he has done to bring us together, to create friendships and understanding. A good man! A good life!

Bill may have typed his last –30– here on Earth, but I suspect he may be sitting on a cloud way up there eyeing the angels and listening to the harps and thinking, “There must be a story in this.” We will miss him, but we had the special gift of having shared time with Bill. That gift cannot be taken from us.

Keith Jenkins, retired, Jenkins and Huntington, Inc.

I, like so many others, have fond memories of Bill Sturgeon and will always hold the memories of our discussions. Ricia S. Hendrick worked for a very demanding dad dealing with the most significant change men go through – turning over “power” and leadership to their children. Speaking for most men, I can say, in most cases, we don’t do it well.

Bill was very proud of Ricia and the role she continues to play in the elevator industry. It was a real privilege for me to have had the opportunity to work with Bill and others to pull together the first United show in Boston; it gave me an opportunity to sit and discuss a number of different subjects with him and to get to know him just that bit more than some others had an opportunity to do.

Bill lived through an exciting yet difficult time and has left behind a true legacy, with the magazine, associations, foundations and a very special daughter to carry on in his foot-steps. She will do great in helping guide her son to do the right things.

Tom Rennick, Premier Elevator Inc.

We were saddened by the news of the passing of Bill Sturgeon, founder and first editor of EW, and a longtime colleague, friend and respected leader of the vertical-transportation industry on a national and international scale. We send our condolences to Ricia, T.Bruce and our other good friends in Mobile, Alabama.

Simha and Ami Lustig, Consulting Engineers Ltd.

When I heard of Bill Sturgeon passing, I, like many others in the industry, felt a deep sense of personal loss. My greatest inspiration for preserving our history came from a small booklet Bill wrote many years ago, “In Search of the Past.” It inspired me to learn more and research deeper into the people and companies that built the American elevator business from its earliest days. I will miss Bill, an inspiring leader and a fine gentleman.

Patrick Carrajat, LIR Group, Inc.

I’m sorry for your loss of this great pioneer. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Michael J. Ryan, The Peelle Co.

It was with profound shock and sorrow that I learned of the death of Bill Sturgeon. I believe these feelings are shared by all who know him. Bill made great contributions to our industry and connected the worldwide elevator industry. We have been cherishing the friendship and cooperation with EW he started and maintained. He was a man of integrity, noble minded, active in and devoted to the public interests of the elevator industry, and will be respected by all of us forever. Please accept our deepest sympathy.

Zhang and Susan Lexiang, China Elevator Association

I’m very sorry to hear the news. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Obviously, this is a big loss to the industry but a better industry because of him.

Rob Merlo, ElevatorNet

I would like to express my sincere condolences on the recent passing of Bill Sturgeon. I send my thoughts and prayers in this difficult time. Although I didn’t know Bill that well, in my reading of EW, I came to realize his great consideration and compassion toward the elevator industry. And, I do know he was very highly respected throughout this community.

Solomon Alemayehu, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Please accept my deepest and heartfelt condolences in this time of loss. Bill Sturgeon was a cordial and respectful Renaissance man and industry icon with a passion for advancing the elevator industry. His presence and profound insight and commentary will be missed.

Joseph L. Stabler, SBC Global

I’m very sorry. My condolences to you and your family from my side and on behalf of Sematic.

Marcello Personeni, Sematic

There are not enough words to express my fond feelings for Bill Sturgeon. He and I “clicked” in 1967 when he enthused over my book, and we’ve been almost as close as brothers since. I started to write a eulogy, but after repeated tries, decided his own career and EW are his eulogy, as well as monuments. I am happy to have been one of the magazine’s many participants and contributors. His legacy is not only EW, but also the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, The Elevator Museum, the NAEC Sturgeon Distinguished Service Award, his numerous writings, plus the hundreds of friends he made through the years, and his family and descendants. I am sure when he arrives at the entrance to that inaccessible overhead in the sky, there will be throngs to greet and cheer him. I’ll join that group when God wills it.

My heart goes out to you. I specifically remember some of the EW family by name. If I can be of any help in any way, please feel free to call me – I love you all.

George and Margaret Strakosch, retired, Jaros Baum & Bolles

Do accept my heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy. The elevator industry has lost a pioneer, but his spirit will guide it on to greater heights. TAK Mathews recently loaned me an autographed copy of the book More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir, and I am engrossed in reading of a man who has such a myriad career.

Trevor Rodericks, retired, Otis India

I would like to extend my deepest condolences for the loss of Bill Sturgeon. He will be in my prayers. I think that from now on, EW’s “More Ups Than Downs” will continue to be written from heaven.

Jorge Fazzito – Buenos Aires, Argentina

We feel really sad for your loss. Bill Sturgeon had such a rich life, did so much for his family and country, gave without waiting for a reward, lived his life intensely and took care of many people (not only his relatives, but also his employees, who depended on him). Courageous and truly self-made men like him fill their loved ones with joy and pride as they think on the brave and important lives those men lived. Still, nobody can avoid feeling some grief, because men like Bill are no longer manufactured.

Nora and Horacio Kamiñetzky, Revista Ascensor

I’m sure Bill Sturgeon is in the VIP elevator car!

Mike Zeller, Zeller Elevator

Please accept my sincere condolences on the passing of Bill Sturgeon. He was a remarkable man and left behind an equally remarkable legacy I am honored to be a part of. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Dr. Lee E. Gray, EW Correspondent, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

Françoise, my daughter, Line, and my son, Jean, and I offer our deepest sympathy to you and your family. As you know, I have always thought highly of Bill Sturgeon. I feel sad, but I am convinced this journey will be for the better, under the circumstances. Best personal regards and a big hug to you.

Pierre Labadie, Labadie Elevators, Inc.

It is with great sorrow I became aware of Bill Sturgeon´s passing. We are never prepared to see one of our loved ones depart. I am sure it is very difficult for you and your family to accept this moment. Your father was and always will be an icon in our industry, to whom we all looked up. In addition to being respected for his knowledge and numerous contributions to our vertical-transportation industry, he had that avuncular demeanor to which we all related and felt drawn. A person of your father’s stature, will always be in our minds and hearts for the rest of our lives. In my way of thinking, this is one of the greatest tributes one can bestow upon a fellow human being.

We at KONE feel very close to him and to all of you. History brought us even closer together when your father´s company became a part of the Montgomery Elevator team in earlier years. It has been a great association since then – one we treasure and respect very highly. Please accept my deepest sympathies on behalf of all of us at KONE who had the privilege to meet and work with Bill in one way or another. We are all better off for it. My prayers are with you from Bogotá, Colombia. We are apart in physical distance, but not in mind.

May the Almighty comfort you in these difficult times.

Upegui José, KONE

I learned several things leading up to and in the early days of my retirement. Because they still resonate with me today and can be applied by most reading this, I thought I’d share my lessons here.
– William C. Sturgeon

An Excerpt from More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir

  1. Train good people to take over your responsibilities. When they do, leave them alone to solve their problems. No second guessing or looking over their shoulders!
  2. Be available to mentor but only when replacement(s) have run completely out of solutions and ask for advice. (Remember Mother Cabrini’s earthy pronouncement, “Unsolicited advice is as welcome as old fish!”)
  3. Don’t be too much in evidence but don’t desert the ship as a caring passenger.
  4. Begin to take a fresh look at the interests of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the new opportunities for mentorship they represent.
  5. Continue to make use of the lifetime of experiences gained in the disciplines of your career. Creative work brings continued health and longevity.
  6. Increase the pace of giving “things” away – money, books, memorabilia, personal treasures. Physical possessions can be thoughtfully distributed when one is present; otherwise, they may be unknowingly frittered away. When the hearse goes to the cemetery, it doesn’t pull a U-Haul trailer!
  7. Empty out your mind, as well. Memories of past events become increasingly clear. Give them away. Brush up on your storytelling. Write a personal or family history – better yet, a book about past experiences.
  8. Continually thank the Good Lord that you have lived long enough to make continued contributions.
  9. See your mind as a stove; cook on the front burners and keep something simmering on the back burners – in your subconscious.
  10. Most remaining friends require increased TLC (tender loving care). Send them more thoughtful letters and e-mails. Time is shorter than it used to be. Use every minute. Get up early, stay up late. Don’t rust out; burn out! And most of all, as Auntie Mame said, “Live!”

Please accept my sincere condolences for the passing of Bill Sturgeon; his death will leave a vacuum in the elevator industry that will never be filled. I, like most others in this industry, admired and respected Bill for his achievements and commitment to this industry, and I will be eternally grateful for the words of encouragement and advice he offered me when I launched Elevation in the U.K. You are able to take solace from the fact his memory will live on within our industry.

Ish Buckingham, Elevation

I regret to hear of the death of Bill Sturgeon, founder of EW, among many other significant, constructive and creative roles he played in his lifetime. I happened to accompany him during his visit to mainland China in 1984, when China was beginning to open enough for the Chinese elevator industry to grow. We traveled from Beijing to Shanghai, visiting factories and jobsites and meeting pioneers of the elevator industry in China. He was amiable and agreeable, a natural friend to factory managers and field supervisors. The highlight of his visit was the moment he stood on top of the Great Wall at Badaling, which seemed to have been inscribed in his memory. A photo of this became one of his most favored.

Following the trip, he wrote a series of reports in EW about the then-present development of the Chinese elevator industry in the 1980s with his specific insight into the great potential of the burgeoning industry. As he sent me EW issues containing his China reports, we kept in correspondence and became friends. Years after he retired in 1997, Bill used his amazing memory to describe the details about how he reached the top of the Great Wall, a challenge for his age, indeed. His outstanding memory was well explored as a rich source for his late books. He signed for me his new book, More Ups than Downs: A Memoir, based on his memory, this August, three months to the day he passed away. On top of telling his life stories, he tells about his positive attitude toward life and business.

He was a man of mission, always keeping a plan for the future, even in his retirement. While retired, he edited Speaking of Issues and created the Elevator Museum. Both of the above were fulfilled in time. His diligence and intelligence were rewarded for the lasting fame of EW in the global vertical-transportation industry. His stories would remain a spiritual fortune, inspiring people to success. He went away in peace, leaving behind his valuables for the international elevator industry to share.

Peng Jie, EW Correspondent, China

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Bill Sturgeon. He was a giant in the industry and an inspiration to generations of elevator associates. His creation of EW was a monumental contribution to the industry as a whole. He will be missed by many and never forgotten.

On behalf of his many friends at Otis; the National Elevator Industry, Inc.; the worldwide elevator fraternity; and myself, I convey the deepest sympathy to Ricia and family, as well as the staff of Elevator World. May he rest in peace.

Lou Bialy, Otis

I’m sure your inbox is flooded with messages of love and support. I don’t expect any reply. I just want to send my deepest thoughts and prayers to you and your family for strength and peace. I hope you find joy in a lifetime of memories and good times, and more laughter than tears.

Terri Flint, Elevator U

On behalf of the entire staff at Gotham Elevator Inspection, I am truly sorry for your loss. You and your family will be in our prayers.

Tom Ledden, Gotham Elevator Inspection

It is with great sorrow I received the sad news of the passing of Bill Sturgeon. Please extend my profoundest sympathy to everyone in your family and Elevator World, Inc. I pray you and your family can somehow find the strength to endure this tragic burden.

Takahiro Yamaguchi, Hitachi Building Systems Co.

My memories of Bill Sturgeon are from well before I joined the elevator industry. My father, who founded Johnson Lifts, has subscribed to EW since 1971. I would visit my father’s office as a youngster, and the most interesting thing would be the copies of EW. After I joined the industry, it was a window to the rest of the world and the new technologies available. I used to look forward to the arrival of the magazine, despite the fact they would come by sea and normally two to three months late. I never had the opportunity to meet Bill, but I have known him through the editorial columns of EW. The world of elevators will definitely miss him, as will people like me. I hope the same pioneering spirit continues in EW.

John K. John. Johnson Lifts

For Lore and myself and in the name of the Lift Report team, please accept our condolences on the death of Bill Sturgeon. After founding VFZ-Verlag and beginning publication of Lift Report in 1982, I was in constant contact with Bill, who always gave me the best information and advice. He was like a father to me in the field of the lift industry. I wish you strength and remain with silent regards.

Dr. Peter Lauer, Lift Report

On behalf of Hitachi, Ltd., and Hitachi Building Systems Co., Ltd., I wish to express my sincerest sympathy to you and your family following the death of Bill Sturgeon, who devoted his whole life to develop the international elevator industry and enhance the riding safety of the public.

Masaru Matsumoto, EW Correspondent, Japan

It has been a great privilege for me to have met Bill Sturgeon and known him over these many years. He inspired me and many others in the lift sector. He was a pioneer in creating and spreading the lift culture.

We will all miss him, especially me. I believe his example and professional history will continue to lead and inspire us for many years to come.

Giuseppe Volpe, Elevatori

We express our heartfelt condolences for the sad demise of Bill Sturgeon and pray God gives him a proper place in heaven. Per our Indian religion, “Good personalities are needed on earth to manage good things, same as they are needed in heaven to manage the show of the entire universe.” We once again pray to God for the peace for the soul of this extremely hardworking and longsighted visionary, and give courage to absorb the shock.

Pankaj, Meena and Samip, Hydro-Pneumatic Techniks

The EW founder’s biography, as summarized in his “In Memoriam” and described in detail in his last piece of writing, More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir, depict a man full of energy and intelligence who carried out unthinkable enterprises to cooperate with the elevator industry both in his country and internationally: he directed EW, associations and foundations to improve the elevator industry and the relationship of those involved in that special sector.

Everyone in the industry remembers Bill Sturgeon for different reasons, and so do I. I was introduced to EW’s editor during the World Elevator Expo in Boston in 1995, having missed the chance in Brussels. A year later, in 1996, Bill told me, “Come aboard!” Afterward, I sent him my résumé to be appointed an EW correspondent in Argentina. My scope was later extended to South America. He gave me a couple guidelines and wrote, “Just write and take pictures. You have no idea how much people like to see their pictures in the magazine!” I have kept all the old, faded faxes he sent me to discuss different issues that arose in those days. He always trusted my judgment and encouraged me to write freely. Bill and EW were definitely a turning point in my life.

In February 2001, I visited EW in Mobile. Although retired, Bill was on the premises working with Ricia and T.Bruce. At dinnertime at a mutual friend’s, he arrived early with a bouquet of roses – a gesture of a perfect gentleman. But, I was really surprised at his questions. He remembered my condition and that of my family in detail. It was a moving gesture from an already elderly person who I considered my mentor. His personality and character, sense of humor and, mainly, humbleness of this truly great person deeply impressed me.

I was reading his book, More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir, autographed with a dedication to my husband Luis and myself, when I learned of his passing away. He will keep me company from those pages written in the first person and be in my heart forever.

Carmen Maldacena, EW Correspondent, South America

We are saddened to learn of your loss. It is my misfortune and loss having never met Bill Sturgeon. We pray your wonderful loving and happy memories will help you at this time. Our industry has lost a giant, and Ricia has lost a father and inspiration. However, the inspirations he gave you will last your lifetime.

Jacqueline A. Mortman and Jean Pierre St Louis, JM Associates/Burnham + Co.

I was saddened to hear the news about Bill Sturgeon. Please accept my deepest and most sincere condolences to you and your entire family. Another legend has gone but will never be forgotten. All of us “elevator people” were truly blessed to have been exposed to his wisdom, honesty, straightforward thinking and expert opinions on so many subjects within our industry. The one and only Bill will surely be missed by all.

Robert Masterson, Otis

My wonderful association with Bill Sturgeon goes back over 30 years, about 33 to be more precise. We were first drawn together in the late 1970s when he decided to do “The World of Code Makers.” During the several A17 meetings he attended to get his stories and photos, mostly in New York City, he and I had a morning coffee one day at the Tudor Hotel, during which he told me of his concern for the perpetuity of EW, a term you came to know quite well. Over the course of several conversations, which broadened to include George Strakosch, Elmer Sumka, Ted Tuff, Stu Harwood, Quent Bates and me, not to speak of the numerous other friends he had, plans for the perpetuity of EW started to crystallize, which led to the formation of the TCC to assist with the technical contents of EW, as one of its initiatives. No doubt, we had a wonderful time sharing technical thoughts with WCS, you and the staff. Several lifetime friendships emerged. Wonderful memories took shape.

George Gibson, George W. Gibson & Associates, Inc. 

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