Scott, Gordon N. (1895-1964)

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 3/22/2006
  • Essay 7703
See Additional Media
Gordon N. Scott was president of Pioneer Sand and Gravel and a Seattle civic leader. After moving to Seattle from British Columbia in his early 30s, he volunteered for numerous civic and charitable organizations, raising funds to improve the lives of countless residents. He was a longtime president and prime mover of both Seattle Goodwill Industries and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra Association. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Gordon Scott First Citizen of 1957.

Gordon N. Scott was born in Hartney, Manitoba, Canada, on July 17, 1895. His parents were John A. Scott and Victoria Nelson Scott. After receiving an education in the public schools of Vancouver, British Columbia, Scott found work as an office boy at the Merchant's Bank of Canada in that city. He moved on to office work at the R. Dollar Company and then became office manager at H. R. McMillan. 

On June 18, 1923, Scott married Elva G. Leach of Winnipeg. The couple had a son, Alan.

In 1927, Gordon Scott accepted the position of General Manager at H. F. Ostrander in Seattle and moved there with his young family. H. F. Ostrander was a shipping, export and import company owned by Harry Ostrander. Ostrander was also president of Pioneer Sand and Gravel, a position Gordon Scott inherited from him in 1935.

Gordon Scott's many contributions towards Seattle's civic betterment began in 1936 when he became president of the board of Seattle Goodwill Industries, a position he held until the time of his death 28 years later. Under Scott's watch, Goodwill Industries grew from employing 75 people with disabilities to employing 450, and also became self-supporting. His leadership helped Goodwill survive a devastating 1945 fire that wiped out the organization's building.  Goodwill built a new 85,000-square-foot fireproof facility.

Gordon Scott was a board member for the United Good Neighbor campaign, serving a term as president. United Good Neighbor was a door-to-door and payroll deduction campaign that raised money for the Seattle Community Chest, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and United Cerebral Palsy, among other charities. It became the United Way of Seattle-King County. 

In the year 1943-1944 Scott served as president of the Seattle Rotary. The Rotary later afforded Scott its highest honor: lifetime honorary membership. Scott was one of only seven Seattle Rotary members to be so honored. He was regional chairman for the National Council of Christians and Jews, a board member of both the Seattle General Hospital and Lakeside School, and a member of the vestry of Epiphany Episcopal Church.

Gordon Scott's club affiliations included the Rainier Club (where he served a term as president in 1947-1948), the Washington Athletic Club, and the Seattle and Broadmoor Golf Clubs.

One of Scott's longtime friends told writer Emmett Watson of The Argus that Gordon Scott was so effective in his volunteer leadership because he "impresses people without trying to. He believes that people who have money should contribute to the cultural life of the city. He puts it squarely up to a man that way. You can't turn him down" (January 25, 1963).

On December 11, 1957, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Gordon Scott Seattle's First Citizen of 1957. The First Citizen award honors outstanding volunteer leadership within the Seattle Community. The award was presented on January 21, 1958, at a dinner at the Olympic Hotel. 

Scott is credited with revitalizing the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. In 1952 he accepted the position of president of the Symphony's board of directors. At the time he joined its board, the Seattle Symphony was in deep financial distress and lacked clear artistic leadership. Under Gordon Scott's presidency, the Symphony regained financial strength and flourished artistically. Scott was instrumental in hiring Milton Katims (1909-2006) as Music Director, an enormously positive move for the Symphony that resulted in a groundswell increase of musical appreciation throughout the greater Seattle community. Writing in The Seattle Times upon the occasion of Scott's seventh re-election to the Symphony's presidency, Louis R. Guzzo (1919-2013) stated:

"In five of the six years Scott has been president, the orchestra's books have been in the black, and in the other year the deficit was less than $5000. That's a spectacular record in a field in which deficit financing is the accepted practice.  All but three or four major American orchestras operate in the red year after year. It is not surprising that the orchestra is unwilling to let Scott step down" (February 3, 1959). 
The following year, as Scott accepted another term, Guzzo wrote, "The Scott-Katims collaboration has produced the most successful era, financially and artistically, in the orchestra's 57-year history" (The Seattle Times, January 19, 1960). Scott continued as president of the Seattle Symphony until 1963 and as chairman until the time of his death. When, after 10 years, he finally stepped down from the presidency, Guzzo wrote:
"There can be little doubt that Scott was one of the most efficient and dedicated symphony presidents in America or anywhere else. Scott's period of office coincides exactly with the orchestra's ten finest years ... the gains made during this period were spectacular -- an increase by one half in the subscription season, the institution of the family-concert program and national attention for the orchestra, a quadrupling in the number of school concerts, cross-state tours and a hard-fisted campaign that resulted in a new Opera House and a cultural center to boot. Scott was the quarterback in the ten fruitful years. He accomplished wonders with a combination of dedication to his city and one of the shrewdest business heads in the community" (The Seattle Times, February 17, 1963). 
Maestro Milton Katims told Emmett Watson of The Argus: "The Pacific Northwest doffs its artistic hat in a deeply felt bravo to Gordon Scott ... the entire community will be forever in his debt" (January 25, 1963).

On May 7, 1964, Gordon Scott died at home following a long illness.

Sources: Who's Who In Washington ed. by Bernice White (Olympia: Hugh L. White, 1963), 316; Milton Katims and Virginia Katims, The Pleasure Was Ours (Mill Valley, California: Vision Books International, 2004); Esther W. Campbell, Bagpipes In The Woodwind Section: A History of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and its Women's Association (Seattle: Seattle Symphony Women's Association, 1978); Beverly Winge, "U.G.N. Looks Forward To Another 'Over-The-Top' Campaign For Funds," The Seattle Times, September 8, 1957, p. 8; "G. N. Scott 'Citizen Of The Year,' " Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 11, 1957; Louis R. Guzzo, "Scott Begins His 7th Term As Symphony President," The Seattle Times, February 3, 1959, p. 6; Louis R. Guzzo, "Scott-Katims Team Signs For Another Symphony Season," Ibid., January 19, 1960, p. 29; "Gordon Scott Board Head For Goodwill," Ibid., January 20, 1960, p. 2; "Belated Tribute," Ibid., February 17, 1963, p. 39; Emmett Watson, "The Symphony's Sandman: The Fine Art Of Arousing Harmony From Discord," The Argus, January 25, 1963, p. 3; "Death Takes Gordon Scott, Civic Leader," The Seattle Times, May 8, 1964; "Gordon Scott, Civic Leader, Businessman, Passes Away," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 9, 1964; The Social Blue Book of Seattle, 17th Edition, 1958-1958 ed. by Elise Kelleher (Seattle: Social Blue Book Publishing, 1957), 100; Seattle Rotary: The First Eighty Years 1909-1989 (Seattle: Rotary Club of Seattle, 1989), 57; online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "United Way: Jim Douglas Remembers Its Beginnings" (by Jim Douglas with Heather MacIntosh) and "Milton Katims" (by Paula Becker),, (accessed November 30, 2005).

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You