DOWNS, Lawrence A. - Putnam

Welcome to
Putnam County,
Go to content

DOWNS, Lawrence A.

Source: Indianapolis Star, Sunday Aug 11, 1940 p 5

Chicago, Aug 10 – LA Downs, 68 years old, chairman of the board of the Illinois Central Railroad, died today at the Illinois Central Hospital.

Downs, a Hoosier by birth and a veteran of 46 years in the railway field, had been in poor health for two years and entered the hospital two weeks ago for treatment for a heart ailment and high blood pressure.  
He served as president of the IC for 12 years before he became chairman of the board of the system. Under his administration a progressive policy was pursued. Streamlined trains were placed in operation. New records for operating efficiency were established.  Downs had always clung to the theory that an average man who does the things necessary has a chance to win promotion to the biggest jobs, even in the largest corporations.
From $60 Month to President – He regarded himself as “just an average Indian,” and attributed his rise from a rodman at $60 a month to the presidency of the Illinois Central Railroad to a principle he adopted early in life. It was “do your job the best you can and always have your eye on the position just ahead.”
Constantly guided by that rule, Mr. Downs’ promotions in the railroad business were steady. It often was said of him that he always was bigger than the job he held and never was unprepared to step into a higher place when the opportunity came.
Born at Greencastle, Ind May 9 1874 he was one of 8 children of James and Mary McCarthy Downs. After his preliminary education his father and older brothers financed his four years at Purdue University where Lawrence was graduated in engineering, the only one of his family to receive a college education.
Worked for Vandalia – During his summer vacations he worked with his father, who was a section gang foreman and upon concluding his education turned to railroading as a means of livelihood. The Vandalia road in Indiana, now a part of the Pennsylvania system, engaged the young engineer to carry rods in a surveying gang. He remained for 18 months until the Illinois Central offered him a similar job at an increase of $20 a month. At the age of 26, Mr. Downs was appointed roadmaster of the Amboy district at LaSalle, Ill and in turn served in the same capacity in the Kentucky, Louisiana, Springfield and Chicago divisions.  After having climbed to the position of assistant chief engineer, he requested a change to the operating department in order that he might broaden is railroad experience.
President in 1926 – He was appointed superintendent of the Iowa division and from that time his advancement in the operating and executive departments was steady until 1926, when he was chosen president of the system.  In 1901, Mr. Downs married Miss Ida May Mulligan of Pembroke, Ontario. They had one daughter.
Downs was a past president of the American Railway Engineering Association and a director of the Railway Express Agency, Inc and the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company. He was a grand trustee of the Sigma Chi Fraternity and a distinguished Catholic layman.

He is survived by the daughter, Mrs. John F. Oakley of new Orleans and three brothers, TA of Princeton, Ky; JL of Champaign, Ill and JE of Terre Haute, Ind. Funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. Burial rites will be conducted Tuesday afternoon in Metaire cemetery, New Orleans

Once Lived Here - L.A. Downs, chairman of the board of directors of the Illinois Central Railroad who died yesterday in Chicago had many friends in Indianapolis and had visited here and in Lafayette frequently.  He made his home in Indianapolis for a brief time in 1901 when the Illinois Central was constructing tracts from here to Effingham, Ill.
His brother, JL Downs, superintendent of the Illinois division of the railroad, also formerly lived here.
The Rev. Patrick H. Griffin, pastor of the Church of the Assumption and among the close friends of LA Downs will attend funeral services for the railroad executive in Chicago. He also may attend the burial service sin New Orleans.
Was Purdue Athlete – Lafayette – Lawrence A. Downs, “the boy from across the tracks,” who rose to be chairman of the board of the Illinois Central Railroad, was graduated from Purdue University in the school of Civil Engineering in 1894. While in Purdue, where he belonged to Sigma Chi Fraternity, he was a member of the 1892 and 1893 Championship football elevens, president of the Purdue Athletic Association, secretary of the Purdue Republican Club and official announcer during the 1893 “field day.”  He was also captain of Company B in 1892-94 in the Purdue University Military Corps and Manager of the University’s first Glee Club.  He was given an honorary degree of Dr of Engineering at the University in 1929.
Born in Greencastle in 1873, Downs received most of his preparatory schooling there.  An article appearing in the Purdue Alumnus last year described how Downs as a 6-year-old boy in Greencastle in 1879, discovered the fire which destroyed the historic old Asbury, the first building ever erected at DePauw University.

Dr. Edward C. Elliott, president of Purdue and Eth Baugh, Purdue Alumni secretary, will represent the university at the funeral services to be held Monday in Chicago at Holy Name Cathedral.  - kbz
Back to content