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.
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 Good News from Ghent to Aix,” by Robert Browning, which was the poignant story of a gallant and great-hearted horse named Roland (also the name of Mr. Eaton’s favorite horse) whose rider had been entrusted with carrying vital news, together with two other messengers. Even though the journey was impossibly long, and the other two horses didn't make it to the end, Roland got there – and then died, his great heart giving out once his job was done. 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.”
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
A farmer and conservationist
An avid reader
An outdoorsman and athlete
A Clevelander from 1906
until his death in 1979