Fordie Ross (1914–2014)

Image Courtesy of  Madeline Crowley

Seattle businessman and civic activist Fordie Ross was born on April 21, 1914, in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, to Miles and Sophia Ross. He was one of six children in a family of devout Presbyterians. Ross attended Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, and Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas. After graduation, he worked in Oklahoma City at Calvary Baptist Church.

Ross married Thelma Smiley on Oct. 23, 1943, and that marriage lasted over seven decades. They had one daughter, Edwina, before moving from Oklahoma to Seattle in 1952.  Ross came to Seattle to work for a local black newspaper, The Northwest Monitor, but the paper closed before his arrival. Despite having no employment, Ross joined Grace Presbyterian Church (later Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church) and became socially active in the small African American community.  

In 1952 Ross convinced the manager of National Cash Register (NCR) business machines to take him on in sales, despite the company having no openings at the time. He also worked at John Valley Realty before joining the United Way where he eventually served as director of the Operational Emergency Center for over twelve years. As director, he oversaw programs that provided food for the poor and a job-training program for disadvantaged youth. Ross worked from 1977 to 1990 as director of the Northwest Community Services Food Banks and then retired while continuing community service.

Ross’s civic engagement included serving as president of the Meredith Matthews East Madison Y’s Men’s Service Club. He also served as board president for the Northwest Community Services Food Bank for many years. In 1962 Ross was among the first African Americans who participated in the SeaFair Parade. Mr. Ross held the position as the first and only minority moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska (fifty-three churches). He also served as the moderator of the Seattle Presbytery, the first African American elder to hold the post, not only for Seattle but for the entire Pacific Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington).  

In 1987 Ross received the Jefferson Award for outstanding achievements in public service. In 2014 his interest in life-long health advocacy made him compete in the Senior Games. He competed in the 100-104-year-old category and won a certified National Best. To stay fit, he walked two to three miles a day, three days a week nearly his entire life, while participating in a research project on older adults funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Fordie Ross died in Seattle on June 30, 2014. He was one hundred years old upon his death and left behind his daughter, Edwina Ross Fields (Perry), three grandchildren; Serita, and Gregory, of Seattle, Washington, and Shanelle of Atlanta, Georgia, as well as six great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.