Roxbury's Edward Gates; Vision Beyond Optometry

Edward and Flo Gates

Edward Gates had an auspicious beginning in 1924.

When his mother went into labor, she and Ed's father got into a Model T Ford to drive from their home in Jersey City to the hospital where she was due to be delivered in New York City.

They headed to the ferry slip only to find that they had missed the ferry and the next was not due for awhile. So, change of plans. They headed to Saint Mary's hospital in Hoboken but never made it.  

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Ed was born in that Model T Ford! 

That was a big thing then, as there were not many automobiles around. Ed's birth made the front page of the New York Daily Mirror. Due to the publicity, his parents received a letter from Henry Ford himself congratulating them on the birth of their son in one of "his automobiles."

Many years later, having purchased a new Lincoln, Ed took his family to visit the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. When Ed related the circumstances of his birth to the guides, he and his family received a private tour of the museum!  

In later years Ed had an affinity for collecting and restoring old automobiles. He became a member of the New Jersey Antique Automobile Association and enjoyed his hobby by participating in parades and events as he drove and displayed his antique vehicles.

As I write this some 92 years after Ed's birth, he is proud to still have a 1930 Ford Model A in his garage.   

Being born in that old Model T has had a lasting impact on him!

Ed was raised in North Bergen. When the United States entered World War II, Ed joined Navy and found himself in California being trained as a Navy Corpsman.

When the course was completed, Ed's class received its posting orders.  Ed's sent him on to the University of California - Berkeley Campus to take a course in optical dispensing to train him to provide glasses to Navy personnel.

I asked Ed if he knew where the rest of his training unit had been posted. As is still the case today, the Navy supplies combat Medical Corpsmen to the United States Marine Corp. Ed's entire class was assigned to the 5th Marine Division as corpsmen.  

The 5th Marine Division would, in time, take part in the invasion of Iwo Jima.  Fate, karma, whatever, Ed finished up his time in the Navy stateside at Mare Island Naval Base in California.

Ed was not only introduced to optometry at Berkeley, he also met his wife and lifelong partner, Florence, while there. Flo lived in New York City and was attending school at Berkeley. They married in 1946.

Ed and Florence would enjoy a 57 year marriage until her passing in 2003. They would have three sons, six grandchildren and now three great-grandchildren as well.

After the Navy, Ed and Florence returned to New Jersey. His time in Berkeley sparked his interest in optometry as did his uncle who was an optometrist. So Ed applied to and was admitted to the Illinois College of Optometry where he finished the four year program in three years using the benefits of the GI Bill.  

Upon his return from Illinois with his family, Ed sat for the N.J. State Board Exams for Optometry. Two hundred graduates took the exam. Sixty passed. And of those sixty only twenty had taken the exam for the first time.   

Edward Gates was one of them.

Gates began looking for a community in which to open his optometry practice  and was advised that the Town of Dover had room for an optometrist. He found a spot to lease and launched his career in Dover.

Now those of you familiar with this column are probably asking, 'Carl, this is all very nice and interesting, but aren't you supposed to be writing about 'Roxbury Notables? Where does this all fit in?'  

Well, after commuting to Dover for a while, Ed decided it was time to find a home near his practice. He looked around in nearby towns and found a place to rent in Succasunna. 

When Ed told Flo about his find, she was at first taken aback, where was Succasunna? To this New York City girl, now living in Jersey City, her husband was taking her and their family to the nether regions, which is exactly what he did in 1951 moving to a home on Eyland Place.

He and Flo would raise in Roxbury their three sons: Marshall, Victor (Bobby) and Bruce. The boys would attend Roxbury schools through high school.  

Marshall resides and has his law practice in town. Dr. Gates said he thanks his lucky stars that he was able to raise his children in Roxbury - good schools and a fine community.

After practicing in Dover for a while, Ed received some advice from his medical doctor to move his optometry practice to Roxbury, which he did while keeping the Dover office open for a few more years.  Gates would practice optometry in Roxbury for more than 50 years. 

He moved his family to a building on Main Street that would in later years be occupied by a funeral home.  Half of the living room was dedicated as office space and his family resided in the rest of the downstairs.  

In time he would build his own medical building and move his practice there.

He recalled helping out one family which had limited financial means. He remembered how, when he put on their young daughter the glasses he prepared for her, she exclaimed, "My gosh. These are wonderful. I can see."

Doc Gates also told me about being in the forefront of the contact lens movement.  He had a cousin, Harold Gates, in California, who was involved in the early development of contact lenses and Ed became the eastern representative of that movement and started proscribing contact lenses to his patients before any other optometrist in the area.  

Ed then became involved in the development of bi-focal contact lenses, all of which were well received by his patients.  

Gates joined the Tri-County Optometric Society encompassing Morris, Warren and Sussex counties, as well as the New Jersey Optometric Society and the American Optometric Society.   He has been named a life member of all three societies and he has served as president of the Tri- County and New Jersey Optometric societies. 

Gates was appointed to the New Jersey State Board of Optometry by Governor Brendon Byrne, where he was involved in the licensing and the continuing education of Optometrists.   

On Oct. 30, 2004, Gates was presented with the "Dr. E. C. Nurock Award" by the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians, the highest symbol of recognition by the Society, which, in speaking of Gates said "Whose dedicated service to the Profession of Optometry, to His Colleagues, and To His Community Has Contributed Significantly to the General and Visual Well Being of the Citizens of the New Jersey."

Gates was a founder of Temple Shalom in Roxbury. As I was told the story, he and his family were members of a temple in Morristown which required a lengthy commute for services and for the schooling for their sons. Talking it over with Flo (and being asked by her ‘Are you out of your mind?’) they began the process in early 1960. Flo wrote a letter to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations inquiring as to how to begin.  

First, they needed ten families which they quickly acquired at a meeting in the Gates' home. Second, they needed the consent of the Congregation in Morristown to split from them; and, that was willingly and graciously given. 

The charter from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations was received and their first meeting took place  in the Gates' home. Gates was elected as the temple's first president, which office he held for two years, followed by Norman Goldblatt, another founder. 

Student rabbis were secured to lead the services since the congregation could not afford the salary of a full time rabbi for several years.  

First High Holy Day services were held at the Franklin school in town. By the time of the next High Holy Day services, the congregation moved to the Triple Lake Ranch hotel dining room, then located on Main Street, made available by congregant Eli Gaynor.  

Ed recalled that in the middle of services the loudspeaker announced that all those participating in horseback riding activity should report to the stable which gave the congregation a bit of a laugh.   

In time, land was acquired and what is the present temple on Hillside Avenue was built over the years in stages. Ed was proud to tell me that the temple has grown from the original 10 families to approximately 500. 

He served as a trustee of the temple for many years and also modestly told me that, in a recent expansion of the temple, a Founder's Hall was named in honor of himself and his wife in recognition of their many years of service.

Knowing that Gates had served on the Roxbury School Board, I asked him how that came about. It seems Norman Goldblatt from the temple was on the board as was Clifford Johnson who was a patient and friend of Ed. They approached him about running for a vacancy and he said OK. 

He was elected in 1967 and would serve until 1970. It was a busy three years as the Jefferson School, Kennedy School, Nixon School and the present high school were all in the process of being constructed.  

Roxbury was growing far beyond the small community Ed had moved into. He recalled that years later a retired President Richard Nixon came to visit the school named in his honor.

After serving on the school board, Gates was asked by Ed Hill to run for Roxbury Township Committee. Well Ed ran and won. I asked Gates about a political affiliation and he quoted Will Rogers: "I am not a member of any organized political party - I am a Democrat."

At that time there were five members on the committee, all elected at large. The mayor appointed Ed to the township Planning Board and Board of Adjustment.  

Roxbury was growing vastly at the time and many hours were put in by Ed and the other members in preparing for and hearing all the various applications for new construction coming before the boards in those days.  

Toward the end of Ed Gate's political career he served on a Charter Study Commission which led to the implementation of the present 7-person council system. The council met then in a building on Route 10 that would later become the police station.  

Upon the purchase of the Horseshoe Lake complex, which Ed was a part of, council meetings were held there. The Horseshoe Lake complex was owned at the time by Harry Chesler who sold it to the town. Gates described Harry as a "good guy," who was one of his first patients. "I want to be your first patient because I bring luck to people," Chesler told Gates, according to Gates.

It seems to me, considering all that Edward Gates has done over the years for his temple and the Roxbury community at large, Harry's words certainly rang true for Roxbury. 

When I asked Ed's advice about dealing with people, considering his many years in practice, his involvement in his temple, his service on the Board of Education and on the Township Council, he said, "Treat people how you want to be treated and you'll do fine."

Nice words to end on. Thank you kindly for your time and service Doctor Edward Gates!

Roxbury is full of special people. Longtime Roxbury lawyer, and former municipal judge, Carl Wronko highlights their lives and deeds.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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