A figure of distinguished importance in the life of Rhode Island for many years, Colonel Harold Judson Gross was one of the most prominent of the State’s business men, and a public servant whose efforts were very valuable in the civic development of the Commonwealth. His business activities extended beyond Rhode Island’s borders, but his interest and his affection always centered about the State of his birth.
Mr. Gross was born at Providence, on April 15, 1866, son of J. Mason and Elizabeth H. (Judson) Gross. His father was a manufacturer of this city, and the son was educated in Providence public schools. Following graduation from the English High School, he began his active business career in the insurance field. This was in 1887. In the space of four years he had mastered the various details connected with insurance operations, and in 1891, with his brother, George L. Gross, he founded the firm of G. L. and H. J. Gross, general insurance agents. The passing years brought prosperity and a remarkable growth to this enterprise. Mr. Gross and his brother demonstrated really remarkable business talents in the direction of its affairs. As conditions dictated they expanded both the extent and the scope of their interests, entering into real estate activities which they carried on in connection with insurance work. It was not long before this company became one of the largest real estate and insurance enterprises in New England. Eventually a new territory was opened. Mr. Gross and his brother established an office in New York City, and organized a corporation in that State in 1905 under the name of Gross and Gross. Mr. Gross divided his time between the two offices in later years, and in New York City was also a director of the Maiden Lane Realty Company.
Meanwhile, however, his career of public service was well under way. He never permitted his own business interests to submerge his larger duties to the State as a whole, and at all times he stood ready to give of his talents, his fine energies and his substance to further the public welfare. While still a young man he became a member of the Rhode Island First Light Infantry, rising to the rank of colonel in that organization. Thus he derived the title by which he was generally known. Colonel Gross also served on the staff of Governor William Gregory.
The World War brought new opportunities for service. Colonel Gross was active in all the community drives, and was associated with all the wartime enterprises, serving on numerous committees. In 1918 he was chairman of the United War Work Campaign which raised more money than had been raised in any drive in Providence, with the exception of the Liberty Loan. Colonel Gross also took a special interest in the Salvation Army and was chairman of the campaign which raised money for the erection of the Salvation Army Headquarters Building at Summer and Westminster streets, Providence.
In the sphere of politics and governmental affairs, Colonel Gross filled many important positions. After the war he was nominated for the office of Lieutenant-Governor on the Republican ticket and was elected on November 2, 1920. In 1922 he became a candidate for Governor, being defeated in the elections by William S. Flynn. Colonel Gross was appointed to the State House Commission in 1925 and served with distinction as a member of that body until the time of his death. He was always an active Republican, standing high in councils of his party, and contributing much to its success in Rhode Island elections. After serving for three years as a member of the Republican State Central Committee, he was elected chairman of that body in 1905. The year previously he had been elected a member of the Providence Board of Police Commissioners for a term of three years. Later he was elected and served a second term of this length.
In addition to his business connections already mentioned, Colonel Gross was connected with a number of important financial and industrial enterprises. His really remarkable business talents were widely recognized and his advice was frequently consulted by very large interests. Thus he was a member of the board of trustees and a member of the executive board of the Industrial Trust Company, and served also on the building committee. He was vice-president and a director of the Union Trust Company; a director of the Rhode Island Safe Deposit Company, the United Electric Railways Company, and the Title Guarantee Company. He was also a director of the Industrial Holdings, Incorporated, a company which had charge of the construction of the Industrial Trust Building in Providence, and a member of the Providence Real Estate Exchange. Fraternally, Colonel Gross was affiliated with the Free and Accepted Masons, and in this great order was a member of Adelphi Lodge. He was Past Master of the Lodge, having served as its head in 1902 and 1904. Colonel Gross was also a member of the board of trustees of the Homeopathic Hospital. He was a member of the Rhode Island Historical Association, the Squantum Association, and of several clubs, including the Hope Club, the Providence Art Club, and the Turks’ Head Club. He was a member of Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church.
In 1893, Colonel Gross married (first) Mary Florence Wightman, of Providence. She died, leaving a daughter, Helen Judson Gross, who is now the wife of Thomas Harris. In 1907, Colonel Gross married (second) Mary Louise Colt, daughter of LeBaron B. Colt, jurist and United States Senator from Rhode Island, and of Mary Louise (Ledyard) Colt, his wife.
Colonel Gross died on April 3, 1927. His death was a source of deep regret to his associates and acquaintances everywhere, and a severe loss to the State which he served so well. Men of his fine character and accomplishments are rare in any age, and they can ill be spared.
Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.