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Passing of John F. Gelson... "Click" to Login or Register 
IHC President
Life Member
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Passing of John F. Gelson...

With deep sadness we announce the death of our dear friend and Chapter 185 Member John F. Gelson.

John was the last president of the Hamilton Watch Company. Through his singular efforts and extreme generosity nearly all the history and archives of Hamilton were saved and exist today. In March of 1999 John published the movement number listings for Hamilton watches so many of us use every day. We lovingly refer to the list he worked so long and hard to produce as the "Gelson List" and it is yet another tribute to John's generosity that he provided the listings freely to us for educational and research purposes. John was instrumental in publication of "Time for America" by Don Sauers which was published in 1992 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Hamilton Watch Company. Several of us have discussed a reediting and updating of the book, a very worthwhile project we should dedicate as a lasting remembrance of John and his work.

John lost his long battle with cancer at 7:30 Eastern Standard Time today November 4th 2005 at his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He resided within easy walking distance of the factory and had a great view of the clock tower from his home. John's intense love for Hamilton and its history is legendary and cannot be overemphasized.

John is survived by Joyce his wife of 51 years, three sons, three daughters, and 14 grandchildren.

We miss you already my dear friend,


Posts: 10553 | Location: Northeastern Ohio in the USA | Registered: November 19, 2002
Wristwatch Expert
IHC Life Member
Picture of William J. Hansen, Ph.D.
Thank you Lindell for posting this news. I believe that John is in a better place today, although it is hard to imagine a better place than Lancaster.

Several years ago, I woke up to the fact that I loved wine more than wine loved me. My friend and mentor suggested that I find a new hobby. I sold my wine collection and then needed something else to learn. It quickly developed that my new hobby had to be like my last one. It had to be rich with detail, history, culture, beauty, and taste. Watch collecting and wine collecting are not terribly different. Watches, like wine, are made in specific vintages. You can study and put to memory the year, production number, quality, etc. It is true for wine, and it is true for watches.

When I was searching for a new hobby, I noticed that "Columbiawatch" was selling a mint copy of "Time for America", the story of the Hamilton Watch Company. I bid on the book, and lost... I lost it!

I emailed the seller, John Gelson, and lamented my failure to win the book. He laughed, and offered me another copy at the ending price. That day changed my life. I ended up buying several of the books, and a number of watches. We began a series of emails and phone calls, and over the course of almost 3 years, John taught me a great deal.

Almost 2 years ago I traveled to Lancaster to meet John in person. I took my mother-in-law's SUV, and made the drive from Cincinnati. I had offered my services to help John sell off some of the "treasures" (I think his wife called it "Junk") that he had in his basement and watch room. It was an honor to spend time with John Gelson. I did what I could to sell off the material that he gave to me. I didn't always do it perfectly, but I did it to the best of my ability.

I've been blessed to stay intouch with John, and in the recent months with his daughter Linda. I'm certain that people who knew John longer will discuss his life further. I will say this:

If you can judge a man by the love that his children hold for him, John Gelson was a very fortunate man. He was loved.

God Bless John Gelson and his family. I will miss him greatly.

William Hansen

Bill Hansen
IHC# 198
Life Member# 17
Posts: 813 | Location: Cincinnati, Ohio USA | Registered: January 22, 2003
IHC Life Member
Wristwatch Host
Picture of Tony Dukes
I pray that John Gelson will rest in peace.
Posts: 1953 | Location: Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S.A. | Registered: August 01, 2003
Deepest sympathy to family and friends....

May he rest in peace.
Posts: 1496 | Registered: November 20, 2002
Hamilton WW Expert
IHC Life Member
Hello Everyone:

What a terrible loss.

I can't tell you how deeply saddened I am to hear of John's passing - not just as a Hamilton fan, but as an admirer of this incredibly decent and kind man. He was always giving of his time and I was fortunate to have spoken to him at length about his business philosophy, his love of horology and his exciting tenure at Hamilton.

He will be missed both as a gentleman and a symbol of an era that has come to a close. John could tell wonderful stories about his tenure as Hamilton's last president. And when he spoke of Hamilton, he spoke with a sense of pride that was well deserved. He was an integral part of a great American story. There are few that would argue the impact that Hamilton has had on world horology and John was a very important part of that heritage.

I am thankful to have known him.

God be with him and his family at this time of loss.

With sad regards,

Posts: 80 | Location: Carlstadt, New Jersey U.S.A. | Registered: January 23, 2005
Wristwatch Expert

I interviewed John back in 1997 for an article I wrote about him in my original newsletter "Vintage Wrist Watch Report." We had a fascinating conversation that lasted for hours and of course I was only able to use a portion of the taped interview for the story. I wish I still had the tape of the interview, but of course it was lost over the years. We talked about his years at Hamilton and about his perspective on the company -- both past and present (in 1997). He talked about his successes with the LL Bean military watch and the reproductions, starting with the Boulton and the Myron (which Gelson renamed the Emerson because he didn't like the name Myron!), and of course the famous Piping Rock. My favorite quote of his (and there were many great ones) was as follows:

"I was interested in the history of Hamilton the moment I arrived at the company. I could have been a history major in college rather than an economics major, except that there was no money in history. I think the best thing I did for the legend of Hamilton was to be the patron for the book, "Time for America."

He was a brilliant, witty man with a love for watches and, of course, Hamilton watches in particular. He was a great friend and benefactor to the NAWCC and in particular the library which owes much of its Hamilton archival material to John. Also the museum, which he gifted the "Number one" movement as well as many other important artifacts. I know that he struggled with this disease for many years. May be rest in peace. I join in the support for doing a second edition of "Time for America." It would be a fitting tribute to John. It would be quite a task, as I've heard the plates and the masters for the book were not saved. The text would have to be manually re-keyed or OCR'd and carefully copy-edited. And, of course, the plates for the color and b/w photography would have to be redone. A monumental task to say the least.
Posts: 84 | Location: Evansville, Wisconsin USA | Registered: April 30, 2005
Wristwatch Expert
IHC Life Member
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John F. Gelson

Published: Nov 05, 2005 EST

John F. Gelson Former Chairman/CEO Hamilton Watch Co. Inc.

John F. Gelson, Lancaster, former Chairman/CEO of Hamilton Watch Co., Inc., died at his home Friday, Nov. 4, 2005. He was 74 years old.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was the son of the late J. Norbert Gelson and Marie Curtin Gelson, stepson of Rosemary MacIntyre Gelson.

He graduated from The University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. At graduation, he was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Navy and served aboard the USS Tercel AM 386 and then at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, N.J..

He began his corporate career with the Warner Lambert Co., in Morris Plains, N.J. and later held marketing positions at Bristol Myers Co., Ciba Geigy, and Shulton Inc., all in the metropolitan area.

He relocated to Lancaster in 1980 to be Executive Vice President of Hamilton Watch Co., Inc. He became President of Hamilton Watch Co. in 1983 and Chairman/CEO in 1984. In the same year, he also became President of the holding company S.M.H.-U.S., which owns Hamilton, Omega, Tissot, Swatch, and other Swiss brands. He retired from S.M.H. (now known as the Swatch Group USA) in June of 1992.

He was appointed to the Sara Lodge Distinguished Visiting Professor of Business, at Elizabethtown College, for the academic years 1992 through 1994. He was a former member of the Metropolitan Club of New York and the Hamilton Club of Lancaster. He also served as a Trustee of the Lancaster YWCA, a member of the board of the Community Gallery, Treasurer of the American Watch Association, and Chairman of the Hospital Authority Commission.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Joyce M.; three sons, John F. Jr., husband of Debra, Pt. Pleasant Beach, N.J., James N., Cranford, N.J., and Thomas M., husband of Christine, Marion, Mass.; three daughters, Elizabeth M., wife of Dr. Dan Dragalin, Mendham, N.J., Pamela J., wife of Ronald Palmeri, Berkeley, CA, and Linda M., Westfield, N.J. A daughter, Jeamy Baltazar, predeceased him. He is also survived by fourteen grandchildren, five brothers, and a sister.

Relatives and friends are invited to attend the mass of Christian Burial on Monday, Nov. 7, 2005 at 10:00 AM from St. Mary s Catholic Church, 119 S. Prince St. Interment will be held at St. Joseph New Catholic Cemetery, Lancaster. The viewing will be held at the Charles F. Snyder, Jr. Funeral Home and Chapel, 3110 Lititz Pike, Lititz, PA on Sunday from 2- 4:00 PM and again from 6-9:00 PM, with a prayer service at 8:00 PM, followed by a time for sharing memories.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his name to the Elizabethtown College Scholarship Fund, One Alpha Drive, Elizabethtown, PA 17022-2298 and Hospice of Lancaster County, P.O. Box 4125, Lancaster, PA 17604-4125. Charles F. Snyder Jr. Funeral Home and Chapel in charge of arrangements. To send online condolences please visit: http://www.snyderfuneralhome.com

Posts: 813 | Location: Cincinnati, Ohio USA | Registered: January 22, 2003
IHC Member 500
Wristwatch Expert
Picture of René Rondeau
I considered John a dear friend and I felt honored to have known him and spent so much time visiting with him at shows and, at least a few times, at his gorgeous house near the Hamilton factory building. There's not much I can add to what has been said -- John was a very special person. Generous to a fault, sincerely interested in Hamilton and its long history, and just an all-around great person. I will miss him.
Posts: 183 | Location: Corte Madera, California USA | Registered: March 31, 2005
Life Achievement
Military Expert
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My blessings and sympathy for John and for John's family.


Greg Crockett
Posts: 1908 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
Picture of Joel W. Sarich
My deepest sympathy for John and his family at this time.
Joel Sarich
Posts: 286 | Location: Northern Ohio in the USA | Registered: February 13, 2005
IHC Member 705
To our dear friends of NAWCC Chapter 185,

On behalf of my mother, Joyce Gelson, and my 5 siblings, we would like to thank the NAWCC Chapter 185 for your sympathy and kind remarks on the passing of my father.

We miss him so much, but he is at peace now after an heroic battle with cancer. Also, we know his legacy is intact, as just like a fine pocket or wrist watch, it will continue to proudly tick on for generations to come.

He thoroughly enjoyed being associated with the NAWCC and especially your chapter. Thank you so much for giving him so much joy and happiness as one your members. His passion was your passion.

I have joined your Chapter so my family can continue to be in touch with you. Over the next months and years we will continue to safeguard his best wishes in regards to his personal collection of time pieces and related material.

Once again, thank you so much for all of your sympathy and support.

Warmest Regards,

Tom Gelson
Son of the late John F Gelson
Posts: 3 | Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania USA | Registered: March 09, 2006
Life Achievement
Military Expert
Picture of Greg Crockett
Hello, Tom.

Thank you for joining us. It's an honor to have you here.

Best regards,

Posts: 1908 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
Picture of Brian C.
Our sympathy goes out to John's family and friends.
Brian & Jane Cavanaugh
Posts: 1857 | Location: Epsom, New Hampshire USA | Registered: December 14, 2002
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