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Gayton, John Cyrus (1931-2005), African American Leader

HistoryLink.org Essay 2726 : Printer-Friendly Format

John Cyrus Gayton was the oldest son of John Jacob Gayton (1899-1969) and Virginia Clark Gayton, and grandson of John T. Gayton (1866-1954), early Seattle pioneer. He grew up imbued with the sense of importance of a legacy passed down. His pioneering efforts in the business world, particularly corporate, and activities, civic and community based, have left their mark. In this brief autobiography, Mr. Gayton summarized his life, professional achievements, and services to the community.

John C. Gayton was born in Seattle on June 14, 1931. Like his father, he was baptized in the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. His early years were filled with many activities which included the East Madison YMCA where he was president of Gray and Hi-Y clubs, worked as volunteer staff, and paid staff at Camp Orkila, the first Black to do so. During the growing up years a work ethic was established, a job was held all during youth whether it was a paper route, stock boy, or working as a bus boy or waiter. He was a 1950 graduate of Garfield High School where he was president of the service club, chair of two committees, and first member of his family to win a letter as a member of the track team.

In 1950 while attending Seattle University, he received an appointment to West Point Military Academy, as first alternate. Although he did not go, it was considered quite an honor, the first Black so honored in the Pacific Northwest. In 1951 during the Korean War, he enlisted in the Air Force. After testing high, he was selected to serve with Air Force Security Service, communications intelligence, holding a crypto clearance. He was with the first group of Blacks receiving this training. Sent overseas, he returned with the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal. While overseas he was also a member of the Far East Command track team.

In 1958, he received his Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Washington -- the only Black in that class. In 1972 he went back to receive a Master's in Business Administration.

In 1958, John was recruited as the first Black to work for Olympia Brewing Company as Company Representative. Not only a first for the industry in the Northwest, but for any major corporation in the Northwest. He went on to become the West Coast representative and coordinator of the African-American market, as such responsible for helping Olympia's first advertising, media, promotional, sales, and community outreach programs directed at the African-American market.

The direct efforts of John Gayton's involvement created jobs where there had never been in Olympia distributorships and business with Black businesses. Other consequences included the first Black general manager of the largest distributorship in Los Angeles (recommended by him as salesman), first beer advertisement by a regional brewery for Ebony Magazine, help in hiring to a sales position a Black that went on to open and become the largest Black beer distributorship in the West. Olympia Brewery with John Gayton created and used for the first time Black models in their advertising. Maya Angelou's show on PBS sponsored by Olympia in 1967 went on to be a huge success and helped her career.

Gayton left Olympia in 1969 the highest ranking Black in the company. While living in California, he was active in political, social, and community affairs. This included Men of Tomorrow, invited to Black Leadership Conference in 1964, 1965. Became ex-officio member, Cal-Pac Association (charter and founding member), largest Black retailers organization in the country.

In 1969 John was hired by United Air Lines Personnel and became a personnel officer of Northwest Region, which included Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah. He was the first Black to be hired as such and first hired to management level. Along with regular personnel functions, Gayton was involved with helping work on the first Affirmative Action Program for the region, helped set corporate policy for African-American employees, given responsibility of integrating all Northwest Region stations, which was accomplished. During his stay, substantial minority hiring and promoting was accomplished. He was given promotional and public relations assignments which included the minority community. His recommendations for media advertisement in the minority community resulted in the first for minority papers and radio in the region. While at United Air Lines Gayton represented the company in many community efforts, one of which was United's Loaned Executive to United Way campaign in 1972, thus he became the first of three Black executives to become loaned executives. His production was among the top 10 percent. In 1973 he left to open his own business. The highest ranking Black at United Air Lines NW Region.

In 1973 John opened up his own business consulting firm, John Gayton Associates. Although not wholly Human Resources oriented, much of what is done falls into that category. An emphasis on Affirmative Action activity takes up a lot of the work. Recruitment of management and professionals is included in the business. Major corporations from all over the country have used its services.

From 1980 to 1992 along with his business John worked with Boeing Company as a professional at their Space Center, where he held a top secret clearance, working on top secret projects.

Toward the end of his life, although he was not as involved as once he was in professional, fraternal, and community affairs, he remained an active member of the University of Washington Alumni Association, life member NAACP, Urban League, life member Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, board member Pioneer Association of the state of Washington, and as an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

For 31 years John was a board member at Meridith Mathews East Madison YMCA, a legacy started by his grandfather. As a member and chair, two times his commitment has been dedicated. Included among his many awards was the YMCA Kilbourne award, the Meridith Mathews East Madison YMCA John C. Gayton award, and the YMCA of Greater Seattle's special Legacy Award, given on the occasion of its 125th anniversary in 2001.

Gayton's other civic involvements, from a list of many, included chairing the Central Area Citizens Committee and Central Area Motivation Project (CAMP), serving on Seattle Civil Service test board, and being named a delegate to the 1980 White House Conference on Small Business.

John Cyrus Gayton died on Monday November 7, 2005, from complications of cancer and diabetes.

Sources:
Gayton Family Archives; Nicole Tsong, "Obituary: John C. Gayton Continued Family Legacy," The Seattle Times, November 13, 2005 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com).


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John C. Gayton (1931-2005), ca. 2000
Courtesy J.C. Gayton


 
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