William Hovey Gay

William Hovey Gay has the ability and the sterling personal characteristics that enabled him worthily to uphold the prestige of a family name that has been one of major prominence in the civic and industrial history of his native city of Grand Rapids, his father having been one of the foremost in making Grand Rapids rise to prominence as one of the world’s leading centers of furniture manufacturing.. William Hovey Gay was born in Grand Rapids, May 30, 1863, and here his death occurred May 19, 1920. He was a. son of the late George Washington Gay and Helen (Hovey) Gay, the latter a daughter of William Hovey, who was one of the pioneer business men and influential citizens of Grand Rapids. George W. Gay was one of the founders and principals of the early furniture manufacturing industry that was first conducted under the firm name of Berkey Brothers & Gay, the business having later been incorporated under the title of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company and having been developed into one of the largest and most important of the great furniture manufacturing enterprises that have given world-wide fame to the "Valley City" of Michigan. William H. Gay profited by the advantages of the Grand Rapids public schools, and at the age of sixteen years he initiated his active service in the factory of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company. He was soon advanced to the position of manager of the company’s retail department, and he thus remained in executive charge until the department was discontinued, in 1900. He then assumed the position of general manager of the company’s factory and business, and his retirement from this responsible executive office occurred only a few years prior to his death. In 1898 he became a director of this corporation, in 1900 he was made vice-president, and in 1909, upon the death of Julius Berkey, he succeeded the latter as president of the company. He had succeeded his father as executive head of the Oriel Cabinet Company, at the time of his father’s death, and he continued president of both corporations until their consolidation, in 1911, under the general title of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company. Of his business activities the following estimate has been given: he surrounded himself with progressive associates, and introduced innovations in both the manufacturing and selling methods of the company—such as the inauguration of an elaborately illustrated portfolio that sold to the trade for fifty dollars a copy, and that aroused much comment and speculation in manufacturing and commercial circles, the wisdom of his course in, this connection having eventually been proved conclusively. It was his genius for administration, evinced in innumerable ways, that made the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company one of the largest concerns of its kind in the United States and that helped to establish for Grand Rapids its’ world-wide reputation as a center of the furniture industry. At the time of the death of Mr. Gay the manufacturing plant of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company utilized 75,000 square feet of floor space, gave employment to 1,100 hands, and did an annual business of several million dollars. Mr. Gay was also president of the People’s Savings Bank; vice-president of the Grand Rapids Plaster Company and the Grand Rapids Brush Company; vice-chairman of the C. S. Paine Company; and a director in the Worden Grocery Company, the Michigan Trust Company, the Commercial Savings Bank and the Fourth National Bank. He was also concerned in the ownership of large tracts of timber lands on the Pacific coast, and had many other important financial investments in Grand Rapids and elsewhere.  Mr. Gay, like his father before him, had the power to do big things in a big way, and the names of both father and son must ever come conspicuously forward in connection with the civic and. industrial history of Grand Rapids. Aside from the large responsibilities that devolved upon him in connection with his large and varied business and financial interests, Mr. Gay found much time and opportunity for loyal service along religious, social, welfare and patriotic lines He was a deacon and trustee of the Fountain Street Baptist Church and was chairman of the building committee that supervised the erection of the present fine church edifice. For thirty years he gave loyal and constructive service in connection with the affairs and work of the Y.M.C.A., and he was credited with being the chief influence in making possible the erection, at a cost of $300,000, of the modern Y.M.C.A. building in his home city, he having been chairman of the building committee. He served as president of the local Y.M.C.A. and as executive chairman of the Michigan state committee of the association. In 1910 he had the distinction of being made a member of the international committee, the general governing body of the Y.M.C.A. In the World war period Mr. Gay was a member of the national war work council of the Y.M.C.A., and was a director of the local organization at Grand Rapids. Mr. Gay’s interest in the welfare of boys was intense and constructive, and he gave much time to work among the younger boys of the Y.M.C.A., besides which he served as a trustee of the Michigan Industrial School for Boys at Lansing. He was a man whose course was guided and guarded by high ideals, and his was faithful and earnest personal stewardship in all of the relations of life, close to his heart having always been the welfare of the employees of the great industrial corporation of which he was the executive head. On the 12th of June, 1888, was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Gay to Miss Netta Cole, daughter of the late Edwin L. Cole, who was long a representative Grand Rapids merchant. Mrs. Gay still maintains her home in Grand Rapids, and is sustained and comforted alike by the gracious memories touching the life and character of her honored husband and their devoted association, as well as by the affection of a host of friends. Mr. and Mrs. Gay had no children, but in their home they reared five children—boys and girls to whom they gave good educational advantages and who have repaid the debt in their enduring filial love and devotion.

Transcriber: Nancy Lesser
Created: 4 March 2003
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/white1924/personal/gaywh.html