Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Former GTE of Florida president George H. Gage, who helped shape Tampa, dies at 87

TAMPA — George Gage started his career with General Telephone digging holes for telephone poles. He ended it as president of General Telephone Co. of Florida, in a corner office in One Tampa City Center. Mr. Gage spearheaded erecting the 39-story headquarters in the early 1980s.

For a few years it was the tallest building on the west coast of Florida, and the heart of the office and hotel "quad block" complex credited with infusing a sagging downtown with new life.

One Tampa City Center brought GenTel's seven offices into one building and staked the company's future firmly in Tampa. It was one of many progressive decisions attributed to Mr. Gage, who guided GenTel through a shrinking economy, deregulation and competition from other phone providers. He served as president from 1971 to 1985, retiring at age 59.

Mr. Gage, a significant figure in the development of downtown Tampa and a prominent civic activist, died Tuesday after an illness. He was 87.

"From a morale standpoint, (the building) was wonderful for downtown folks," said former Mayor Bill Poe. One Tampa City Center, still one of Tampa's tallest buildings, set the pace for growth.

"If GTE can put in a building like that and use it appropriately and be practical, then others can do it," Poe said. "And others did come in, and we built some other large buildings in that area. George was a catalyst for those issues."

Mr. Gage came to Tampa from New York, where he had served as a vice president of GTE Service Corp. After taking the helm of GenTel Florida, he confronted crushing problems, including widespread customer complaints and low employee morale.

He responded by creating a department devoted to customer satisfaction. Mr. Gage also rode on service trucks, visited plants and created a committee of employees and managers. He solicited, then read, more than 10,000 pages of employee questionnaires. He downsized from GenTel's 14,000 employees through attrition and technology, not layoffs.

It was all part of his outgoing personality and his desire to make the workplace more fun. "The telephone business at that time was exploding," said Joan Gage, his daughter. "It was a growth business, and he had a blast."

Born Bradley Ewers in Portland, Ore., Mr. Gage later took the first and last names of his adoptive father, George Gage Sr. He served in the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II. In 1946 he married Denzell Bartlett, who he had met on a blind date.

After a year of college, he started work with General Telephone in the Los Angeles area in 1947, where he worked his way up from groundman to lineman. Mr. Gage then held various engineering jobs, then switched to public relations and marketing. He was named vice president of GTE Service Corp. in 1962, and lived with his family in New York for eight years.

After being promoted to president of GenTel Florida, Mr. Gage decided to keep the company's headquarters in Tampa despite overtures from St. Petersburg.

"That was the first major commitment from a company that size," said Joan Gage, 59, who also spent a career with GTE and Verizon. "That's what changed downtown Tampa."

Mr. Gage had to juggle regulators, company revenues and the public. He warned of $100-a-month phone bills if the company was forced to comply with various demands, including lower monthly rates for people on fixed incomes and more pay phones accessible to wheelchair users.

"On the surface, these suggestions sound just great … until you ask someone who will pay for them," he told a Kiwanis audience in 1976. "These consumer champions are pushing your phone bill out of sight."

Mr. Gage retired in 1985 and expanded his volunteer work. He held numerous leadership positions over the years, including serving as president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Committee of 100, and on the boards of the Bolesta Center at USF and the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony.

A willingness to walk the streets, greet people and make his pitch in person coupled with his name recognition helped his charitable fund raising.

"He was working as a volunteer, but you would have thought he was a superintendent all over," said Poe. "Everybody knew he had operated GTE. All of us like to be behind a big desk, but George got out of that position and really, really helped Tampa."

Mr. Gage was also intimately involved with the Boy Scouts, which led young men into nature and shaped character as his adoptive father had once done for him.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Comments
Father dead, suspect in custody after hit-and-run driver plows into New Tampa family on bike ride

Father dead, suspect in custody after hit-and-run driver plows into New Tampa family on bike ride

A Tampa man is dead and his 3-year-old son is in serious condition after being struck by a hit-and-run driver as they went on a family bike ride Sunday afternoon.A male suspect is in custody and being interviewed by police but his name has not yet be...
Updated: 2 hours ago
A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

TAMPA — Every year during draft season, players from the Tampa Bay area are selected in the NFL, MLB and even NBA drafts.But NHL?Sure enough, in the third round of Saturday's NHL draft, the Jets selected Nathan Smith, a forward who was born in ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

TAMPA ó Stripped to the girders, the old Bromley office building looked about as substantial as fish bones on a dinner plate.But the 5-story structure proved Sunday it still had a surprising amount of fight left in it.A demolition team had planned to...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays season turning into good one

Rays season turning into good one

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays are not the best team in baseball. They are not going to win the World Series this year. Heck, they probably won't even make the playoffs.But I tell you what. This team is a heck of a lot of fun to watch.And ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays first baseman Jake Bauers sat at his locker after Sunday afternoon's 7-6, 12-inning win over the Yankees and thumbed through his text messages. There was no way he could get through them all. That's what happens when ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays journal: Yarbrough comes through, Venters to DL, support for Ramos

Rays journal: Yarbrough comes through, Venters to DL, support for Ramos

ST. PETERSBURG — Ryan Yarbrough was only supposed to throw on Sunday if it was an emergency. In the 12th inning with the score tied 6-6 and a runner on first, there was an emergency.Jonny Venters tweaked his right hamstring trying to cover firs...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Suspect dead, 2 injured in St. Petersburg home invasion-turned-shooting

Suspect dead, 2 injured in St. Petersburg home invasion-turned-shooting

ST. PETERSBURGSuspect dead, 2 injured in home invasion, shootingThree people forced their way into a St. Petersburg house before dawn Sunday before gunfire broke out, killing a suspect and injuring two residents, police said.About 5:30 a.m., the peop...
Updated: 5 hours ago
A jogger accidentally crossed into the US from Canada and was detained for two weeks

A jogger accidentally crossed into the US from Canada and was detained for two weeks

The coast of White Rock, British Columbia, in western Canada looks to be an ideal place for a run, with its sweeping views of the Semiahmoo Bay to the west and scores of waterfront homes and seafood restaurants to the east. Thatís what 19-year-old Ce...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Head-on crash kills Pasco teenager, injures three

Head-on crash kills Pasco teenager, injures three

NEW PORT RICHEY ó A 19-year-old driver died in a three-car crash on Moon Lake Road on Saturday afternoon, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.Jillian Faith Hitt, 19 and of New Port Richey, was driving north on the road in a 2008 Hyundai Accent, weari...
Updated: 10 hours ago
President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

STERLING, Ill. - As a longtime editor of small-town newspapers, Jeff Rogers has seen his industry face the collapse of print advertising, the rise of the internet and more. Today, his 18 employees work in a newsroom here that puts out two daily newsp...
Updated: 10 hours ago