In the death of Captain William Martin Gill on April 20, 1931, the city of San Francisco lost one of its most
beloved citizens, one who had shown conspicuous bravery during his long years of service with the local fire department,
who had been extraordinarily active in charitable and philanthropic affairs, and had been an influential figure
in many civic movements of importance. Captain Gill was born in Annapolis, Maryland, April 8, 1872, and was a son
of Martin and Ann (Brodigan) Gill. Martin Gill, the father, was a soldier in the Civil war, and was a wheelwright
by trade. He owned and lived on the property which is the site of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Captain Gill was the seventh son of a seventh son, and when he was seven years of age he came to Bodega Bay, California,
with the family. In the old Lincoln school and the Sacred Heart College of San Francisco, he received his education,
and then first started to work as a messenger for the old German Savings & Loan Society, which is now the San
Francisco Bank. In 1899, Captain Gill entered the employ of the city of San Francisco in the service of the fire
department, and in this capacity he had a career of notable service covering over a quarter century, or until his
retirement, in 1925 on account of disability from a serious accident in 1896, at the well remembered St. Rose's
Church fire, which devastated five city blocks. He was highly commended for his valor at this conflagration, but
his injuries received when he was trapped within the burning church brought about long hospitalization, later retirement,
and eventually were contributing factors in his death. After his withdrawal from the department, he associated
himself with the firm of Dorey Brothers, automobile dealers, and was so connected during the remainder of his life.
San Francisco remembers Captain Gill for his many activities in municipal affairs. He was consistently and invariably
engaged in something which had for its purpose civic improvement. He was one of the principal workers for the double
platoon system in the fire department, which meant shorter working hours for the firemen. Likewise, in later years,
he was an energetic champion of the increased pay campaign for the local fire fighters. He is remembered for his
part in many of the Christmas parties given to the poor children of the city by the Daily News, on which occasions
he played the role of Santa Claus in a manner very satisfactory to the happy hearts of the assembled guests. Bringing
joy and contentment to others was his greatest pleasure, and he seized upon every available opportunity to enter
into such work.
On April 17, 1907, Captain Gill was married to Esther Madeline Dowd, a daughter of Bernard and Esther Dowd, who
came to California in the early days from Massachusetts. Mrs. Gill survives her husband, and makes her home at
2713 Howard street in San Francisco. The Captain is also survived by one brother and two sisters: John F. Gill,
Mrs. J. Green, and Mrs. A. Nichol. One brother and one sister, Nicholas Gill and Mrs. Ann Wilson, preceded him
Captain Gill was the first secretary and one of the organizers of the David Scannell Club in San Francisco. He
also belonged to the Veteran Firemen's Association; the California State Firemen; the Knights of Columbus; the
Widows' and Orphans' Association; the Mutual Aid Association; and the Young Men's Institute. He was a devout communicant
of the Roman Catholic Church, and a stanch worker in the church during his entire life.
A comprehensive editorial comment concerning Captain Gill is that given by the local Daily News after his death,
which stated: "Captain Gill, hero of the fire department, friend of children, genial, generous, remembered
by thousands as the Santa Claus of the Christmas parties that he and The News used to stage together every year!
It is such men who make cities, more than skyscrapers or mounting populations or soaring bank clearings. It is
the memory of such men that makes tradition and heartens humanity against pessimism and selfishness."
The History of San Francisco, California
Lewis Francis Byington, Supervising Editor
Oscar Lewis, Associate Editor
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago-San Francisco 1931
San Francisco, CA
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