Joseph E. Gandy was born in Spokane on October 9, 1904. His mother was Helen D. (George) Gandy (1877-?). His father, Lloyd E. Gandy (1877-1963), served in the state legislature in 1911. His paternal grandfather, for whom he was named, was a commissioned general in the Union Army who came to the future state of Washington in 1875 and practiced medicine in Spokane Falls.
Gandy attended Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, his parents' alma mater. Gandy then attended the University of Washington School of Law, graduating in 1929. From the time he arrived in Seattle as a first-year law student in 1926, Gandy served the Seattle community with steady vigor.
In 1937, Gandy, then practicing law in Seattle, married Laurene Tatlow, an instructor at the University of Denver. The couple had one daughter, Marilyn.
During World War II, Gandy performed important home-front work as the chief deputy regional director of the War Production Board for Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska.
Gandy was secretary-treasurer of Smith-Gandy Ford, a Seattle Ford dealership he co-founded in 1946. He served as president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1956 and was re-elected in 1957. In 1959 he was crowned Seafair King Neptune X and also found time to serve as president of Crystal Mountain, Inc., the organization that was then developing the ski resort on Chinook Pass. He served two terms as president of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra Association and in 1953 chaired the United Good Neighbor's fundraising drive. United Good Neighbors was a precursor to the United Way.
In 1959 Joseph Gandy joined the board of directors of the Century 21 Exposition. In early 1960, Century 21 president Edward Carlson stepped down and Gandy was chosen to take his place. Thereafter, Gandy traveled the world stirring up international interest in Century 21, the Seattle's World's Fair, which took place in 1962. Sometimes the learning curve of his international audiences was daunting: Gandy found many members of the international community so unfamiliar with the Pacific Northwest that they were unable to distinguish Seattle from Washington, D.C. In self-defense Gandy traveled with a large color map of the United States on which the state of Washington was boldly outlined. His remarks to potential Century 21 attendees included the following: "As you know, Seattle is not a suburb of Washington, D.C. We are the metropolis of a great and exciting region, the Pacific Northwest" (Morgan, p. 130). Intimately involved in every detail of turning Seattle's civic dream of a World's Fair into a reality, Gandy gave Century 21 his complete attention.
Shortly after the Fair finally opened to enormous acclaim in April 1962, Gandy told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "I haven't been an auto dealer for three years and I haven't worked in my law office for about five. I dropped by the auto salesroom to cash a check and a salesman tried to sell me a car. I'm going to be 58 years old and unemployed if I'm still alive when I get through with this job" (April 23, 1962). The paper described Gandy, six-feet-two-inches tall and 195 pounds, as being deeply sun-bronzed at the Century 21 opening ceremonies due to a very recent Hawaiian vacation imposed on him by his physician as a tonic for the strains of his work on the fair.
Among Gandy's high-profile duties as fair president was hobnobbing with the many famous people who visited Century 21. On May 10, 1962, Gandy presented astronaut John Glenn with a gold pass entitling him to free admission. Laurene Gandy, an active leader in Seattle community affairs in her own right, was widely described in the press as First Lady of Seattle's World's Fair. With her husband, she welcomed and graciously entertained dignitaries including Elvis Presley, Prince Philip of Great Britain, writer Lowell Thomas, poet Carl Sandberg, Robert and Ethel Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. The Gandy's daughter Marilyn Gandy Scherrer later described her parents' 1962 activities at the center of the Century 21 social whirl to Helen E. Jung of The Seattle Times: "Life was just a circus. Just about anybody who was somebody in the '60s was a guest in their home. Mother hosted these people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ... it was just an on-call performance, 18 hours a day ... They gave unselfishly of their time, never thought about themselves" (November 21, 1993).
The Century 21 World's Fair earned the distinction of being the only event of its kind up to that point to earn a profit, convincing civic boosters that they'd put their money on a winning horse. Gandy later told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Whether we like it or not, and there are some who don't, Seattle is destined to grow and doomed to progress" (September 14, 1966).
Nineteen sixty-two was the year of Joe Gandy in Seattle. Hard on the heels of his spectacular success leading Century 21, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors honored him with their prestigious First Citizen Award. The First Citizen Award recognizes outstanding service to the Seattle community. The award was presented on January 22, 1963, at a gala banquet in the Grand Ballroom at the Olympic Hotel.
Edward E. Carlson, who as chairman World's Fair Commission had worked closely with Gandy for years planning the Century 21 Exposition, told the crowd that Gandy had done "a fantastic job in gaining recognition for Seattle" (The Seattle Times, January 23, 1963). French consul Roger Gotteland took the opportunity to present Gandy with the Order De L'Etoile Noire (the French Order of the Black Star) in honor of Gandy's service to France during France's participation in the fair. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer called Gandy's service as president of the World's Fair Corporation "the most recent in a parade of public achievements leading to his selection" (January 23, 1963), and many representatives of the organizations on whose boards he had served delivered tributes to him.
Shortly after accepting the First Citizen Award, Joseph, Laurene, and Marilyn Gandy traveled around the world personally thanking the many countries that had participated in the World's Fair. The Seattle Times reported:
"Gandy is arranging meetings at high government levels in more than 30 countries. United States ambassadors are arranging appointments. 'I want to express the gratitude of the World's Fair and the people of Seattle and Washington State for the foreign governments' interest in the fair. In any sales job the follow-through is more important than the original sale. These countries spent at the fair what to them were fortunes. It seems obligatory that they be thanked properly' " (January 14, 1963).
Gandy's numerous community activities included founding the Central Association and serving as that group's first president, founding the Seattle Junior Chamber of Commerce, serving on the boards of the Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Urban League, the Washington State Highway Users, Junior Achievement, the Seattle Municipal League, the World Affairs Council, the Seattle Art Museum, and Greater Seattle, Inc.
In 1969 he headed up the United Arts Council, Seattle's first consolidated drive to raise money for arts and cultural groups. Reporter Ed Stover wrote of Gandy in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "People who tried to pigeonhole Joseph E. Gandy were always stumped. He was too many different things. Instead, they would describe him in terms of whatever he was doing at the time. Often, he was referred to as the man who was president of just about everything of note at one time or another" (June 14, 1971).
After 1963 Gandy practiced law with LeSourd, Patten, Fleming, and Hartung.
On January 21, 1964, Gandy, who considered himself a conservative Republican, announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for governor. After several months he withdrew and instead worked for the election of Dan Evans (b. 1925).
In 1966, Governor Evans appointed Gandy chairman of the State Stadium Commission, a 12-person committee formed to explore financing a new Seattle stadium. Ultimately the work of this commission resulted in the construction of the Kingdome, but Joseph Gandy did not live to see the November 2, 1972, groundbreaking. Gandy was a major force behind the bid to attract a pro-football team to Seattle. During the time he served on the State Stadium Commission, Gandy was also in charge of the first Washington State Products Exposition and on the national advisory committee for the United States' participation in Expo 67 in Montreal. He was also named honorary consul in Seattle for the British Commonwealth nation of Ceylon.
Joseph Gandy died of a heart attack while sailing on Shilshole Bay on June 13, 1971, at the age of 66.