Friday, January 13, 2012

Hugh Robertson - Zenith Corporation

Let’s begin with the census records. In the 1900 census, James Robertson is shown as having been born in Scotland in January 1869. He had been married for 13 years and his wife, Carrie Robertson, had also been born in Scotland. The marriage had produced five children, three of whom were still living when the census was taken. Hugh was the oldest boy, born in Scotland in February 1888, and at the time of the census he was at school. Two other boys were at home, both born in Illinois – Tom was eight and John was four. The father was a bookkeeper and they lived in a rented house in Chicago.

By the 1910 census, James Robertson was 46 and and had now been married for 24 years. He was a public accountant, owned a house with a mortgage and had emigrated to the United States in 1887. His wife is listed as Marjorie C. and also born in Scotland. Hugh, the oldest son, is now 23, single, and working as a department manager for an automobile company.

In 1920, Hugh was 32 and married to Mabel Robertson age 31. They were living in the Seventh Ward and he is now the general manager of an automobile company. They were living in a rented house and the records note that he had been naturalized in 1918. There were two children, the oldest was seven and also named Hugh and the youngest was John, two years of age.

By 1924, Hugh Robertson was working for Eugene F. McDonald, president of the Zenith Corporation as the office manager. (They perhaps had met when both were working for automobile companies.)  Mr. Robertson would spend the rest of his life at Zenith. From office manager he became the company’s Treasurer. He was elected a director in 1929, executive vice president in 1934, president in 1958, chairman of the board in 1959 and honorary chairman in 1964. When he retired in 1972 after serving as a member of the board for 43 years, he was named director emeritus.

In the 1930 census, we learn he is still renting a house and paying $140 a month. He owns a radio. (That was one of the questions on the census.) The census shows that he married at 25 and his wife was born in Illinois.  The oldest son, Hugh, was now 17, John was 12 and there was another child - Marjorie R. Robertson was six years old.

On August 22, 1942, Mr. Robertson registered for the draft. Here we find that his birthday was February 12, 1887, and that he was born in Glasgow, Scotland.  He lived at 738 Bonnie Brae, River Forest, Illinois, and the next of kin was Mabel B. Robertson.  He was 5'8" tall, 175 pounds, with gray eyes, brown hair and a light complexion. His employer was the Zenith Radio Corporation, 6001 Dickens, Chicago Illinois.

In 1964, Mr. Robertson received the Illinois St. Andrew Society’s Distinguished Citizen Award. James C Thomson wrote that he was “a long time member of the Society and regularly attended the Anniversary Dinner."  Later in 1968, when the Scottish home was in a building program, Mr. Robertson was listed as a major donor. Others listed as major donors were; Hughston McBain, Foster G. McGraw, Angus J. Ray, R. Douglas Stuart and James B. Forgan. The list has a total of 23 names but the gift amount for each person is not given.

Hugh Robertson died in December 1979. A memorial service was held at the First Presbyterian Church in River Forest on January 12, 1980. In some of the old boxes stored at the Scottish Home, I found the Memorial Service Program and some letters with the following information. Dr. Paul, a former pastor of the church where Mr. Robertson had been a member more than 50 years, conducted the service. Assisting in the service was the society’s chaplain, J. W. McGlathery, and the piper was George Gray.  Psalm 131 is printed on the program along with some verses of Robert Burns. Hugh Robertson is buried in Lake Forest Cemetery.

A Memorial fund was established for the benefit of the Scottish Home which “was one of the late Zenith board chairman, Hugh Robertson’s, life long causes.” Zenith employees contributed to the fund along with a major contribution by the company. The money was used to renovate the “undercroft” – a lower-level room used by the home where the Scottish American Hall of Fame would be located.

James C. Thomson, president of the society in 1980, wrote about the quality of life at the Scottish Home. He said “it is not something that can be achieved through facilities alone – but through the sharing of our time, love and emotions in the interest of residents. In his own devotion to the Scottish Home, the late Mr. Robertson exemplified these qualities and we are grateful that the fund in his memory will continue this tradition of service.”

I also found in the old boxes a letter to one of his grandchildren. It was written by Joseph S. Wright and contained comments about the Memorial service. The granddaughter’s name was Mrs. William Ince and she lived in Arvada, Colorado. A recent check of the white pages shows a number of people living in Colorado with the same last name. Perhaps some family members will contact us after reading these comments on the Internet.

Tomorrow I would like to post comments made at the Memorial service by Joseph S. Wright; it is a fitting tribute to the life of a great  Scot.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus

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