Gentleman Joe In Post War WWII


Following the war, Joe attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year of post-graduate studies before starting his own contracting business in Illinois in 1946.  A year later, he married Millie Simonds, a girl he had known most of his life and, over the course of the next 12 years they had five children.  In 1960, he joined the brokerage firm of Newhard, Cook & Co. in St. Louis.  Mr. Bates led the research team that discovered a commercially feasible way of extruding the all-aluminum can.   Alcoa purchased the technology and hired Mr. Bates.


During his 22-year career with Alcoa, his positions included Managing Director of Alcoa of Australia and Executive Vice President of Alcoa International Division.  He retired in 1983 but, not one to sit still, accepted a position with Mitsubishi as a consultant.


"There were lots of things Joe did during his career that really showed unusual leadership because he was challenging norms that he didn't think were right," said former Alcoa Executive Vice President Robert F. Slagle.


One of those decisions came in the 1970s when a successor was needed for Mr. Slagle, who was running Brazilian operations. Alcoa always appointed Americans to run its overseas subsidiaries, but Mr. Bates championed the cause of Mr. Belda, who was not a Brazilian citizen but had lived in the country for most of his life.  "I give Mr. Bates enormous credit for taking up the cause to make Belda my successor," Mr. Slagle said.


"I think it's amazing he climbed the corporate ladder as high as he did at Alcoa because he was not at all political," said his son, Robert Bates of Columbus, Ohio.


Mr. Slagle attributed Mr. Bates' reputation as an independent thinker to his joining Alcoa in mid-career rather than working for the company from cradle to grave like most executives. His effort to reclaim land at bauxite mines in Australia and Brazil was an example of how he approached issues differently than insiders, Mr. Slagle said.


"When Joe started out to do that, he was fighting a point of view in Pittsburgh that said you don't spend money to do that," he said.


Mr. Bates loved flying.  He obtained his pilot’s license in 1936 and flew his prized Beechcraft Bonanza airplanes until the age of 82.  He was also a talented and avid woodworker and photographer.  Some of his fondest memories were of flying all over the country, Canada, and Alaska, visiting family and friends with his wife ably assisting as co-pilot.  His co-pilot was his wife, Millicent, whose father owned the Sparta, IL, grocery store above which Mr. Bates was born.   "When we reached our altitude, he would reach over and pat me on the knee and say 'What a life!' " Mrs. Bates said. "He was my best friend, my sweetheart, my partner and confidant."


Gentleman Joe departed on “final patrol” from his Sewickley Heights home Nov. 18, 2005, at the age of 85.  He was surrounded by his wife, four of his five children, and six of his eight grand-children.  Two years before he passed away, and a couple of days before he was to undergo a 9-hour surgery for pancreatic cancer, he wrote these words in a letter to his family:


“Millie, my wonderful partner, is supporting me beautifully. My family has circled the wagons in a grand manner and given me great support. I wouldn't know what else to request.


I know that hospitals are dangerous places and sometimes things do go awry. So, I thought it might be best if I recorded some of my thoughts.


I have had a wonderful life of joy, adventure, success and failure. I've been everywhere I ever wanted to go. Our five children are such great people. Millie, my Wonder Woman, has been a terrific life partner. I grew up in a unique atmosphere, literally on the street and with horses and guns and airplanes and the freedom to enjoy whatever I came into.


The Depression and the war were defining experiences. Eli Reich was perhaps the greatest factor in my maturing years. He showed me much and got me closer to God. I bear no ill feelings for anyone. My Millie and our children are my best friends.


At 82, any fool knows the end is not too far up ahead. When I get there I would hope there could be a celebration of what I think has been a wonderful life.  I am content. So, there should be Champagne and banjos!! Dancing! Story telling!”