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Cyrus Eaton - Biography of the Man

Cyrus Stephen Eaton

The late Anne Eaton recalled her husband saying that any biographer who could write his biography wouldn’t “get” who he was; and that anyone who could grasp “the big picture” of Cyrus Eaton — industrialist, philosopher, philanthropist, outdoorsman, gentleman farmer, and above all, proponent of world peace - probably wouldn’t be able to write about him.

"Far be it from me to attempt the definitive biography," says ALICE GULICK, Secretary of the Foundation Board.

"I became a member of his family in 1957, and have served on the Cyrus Eaton Foundation for most of the 30 years since his death. But what I really want to convey is not the facts and figures of Cyrus Eaton’s life,  which can be found in many different sources, but what it was about this complex, history-changing giant of a man – known to several of us on the Board as ‘Grampa’ – that still lives so strongly in us that we can’t helping trying to carry on his legacy through our work on his Foundation."


Cyrus Stephen Eaton
Cyrus Stephen Eaton

Ms. Gulick recalls her first meeting with Mr. Eaton, when she was a schoolgirl and he in his seventies. In many ways, the story encapsulates what was so inspiring about him: “I came home from school to find Mr. Eaton—immaculately dressed in a dark blue double-breasted suit - having tea in the front parlor with my mother. Mother had told me something about this man, so I was prepared to be awe-struck - but when I entered the room, this very important man stood up as if I, not he, were the visiting dignitary!

More impressively, he had taken the trouble to ask my mother about me and my interests, so that he could ask me questions about my activities – and then, unlike any other adult I had ever met, he listened to my answers as if I were a fellow-adult, looking me in the eye as he did so. A keen interest in children, their potential, and what could be done to help them achieve it, was a hallmark of Mr. Eaton – and lives on today in our work.

“My mother had told me that Mr. Eaton was a terrific reader: as well as the Bible and the giants of philosophy from the Greeks on, he had read and reread all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, and most of the major English poets. Mr. Eaton asked me to read one of his favorites, “How They Brought the News from Ghent to Aix,” which was the poignant story of a gallant and great-hearted horse named Roland (also the name of Mr. Eaton’s favorite horse) who had been entrusted with carrying vital news. Even though it Roland got there – and then died, his great heart breaking. Despite my child’s understanding and delivery of the poem, when I looked up at the end, Mr. Eaton had taken out an immaculate handkerchief and was wiping his eyes.

“Cyrus Eaton shared with me and all his descendants his love of the outdoors (and horses!), his relish for literature, and his belief in the Greek ideal of a sound mind in a sound body. As we saw how these things informed his life, we have all, in different ways, been moved to care about education, and making the planet a vibrant and safe place to live, no matter what the particulars of the politics or philosophy you grew up with.”    

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Cyrus Eaton made his home in Cleveland, Ohio. He was born in Nova Scotia, a descendant of Empire Loyalists who emigrated from New York during the American Revolution – leaving behind a homestead on what is now the corner of Broadway and Wall Streets! His growing up as a farm boy and son of a small-town store-owner was a source of great pride, and the subject of many wonderful tales beginning “when I was a boy in Nova Scotia, . . .”

Certainly his childhood instilled in him a deep love for nature and a profound respect for the common man and the heroism and enterprise to be found in everyday life.  His childhood and upbringing also made him a great reader, and his interest in literature, poetry, and philosophy informed his outlook on many levels – physical, mental, spiritual.

While still a theology student at McMaster University, he was invited to Cleveland by his uncle, Charles Aubrey Eaton, pastor of John D. Rockefeller's church. Rockefeller hired Eaton and inspired him to be an industrialist who rejoiced in hard work and strenuous play.

An innovative businessman
Eaton built enterprises in steel, coal, iron ore, railroads, lake shipping, rubber, paint, utilities, and finance. Having lost a fortune in the Great Depression, he recovered to create a second empire afterwards. 

A statesman
Eaton was dedicated to the quest for international friendship, disarmament, and peace. The Pugwash Conferences, which Eaton helped found in 1957, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

A philosopher
Eaton brought together scholars and scientists of many countries to share ideas and explore ways to co-exist peacefully;

A farmer and conservationist
Eaton bred Shorthorn beef cattle and raised waterfowl to be released into the wilderness.

An avid reader
Eaton embraced philosophy, literature, history, and science.

An outdoorsman and athlete
Eaton believed everyone should have access to trails, woodlands, and picnic places.

A Clevelander from 1906 until his death in 1979
Eaton cared about its schools, industry, culture, and growth

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The Cyrus Eaton Foundation
The Heights Rockefeller Building; 2745 Lee Blvd., Suite 2H
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
Phone: (216) 320-2285     Fax: (216) 320-2287

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