Deceased October 9, 2022
How did we know Gordon, wrapped in his L.L. Bean coat of many passions—father, husband, outdoorsman, conservationist, real estate mogul, singer, sailor, tennis player, philanthropist—and a purple alumni lifer. He treasured his favorite institutions and through them brought joy to countless individuals.
He came to Amherst from Deerfield in 1948 with Win Hindle ’52 and Jack Vernon ’52. They settled on the fourth floor of Stearns, studied and sang while he played his four-string guitar left-handed. He rappelled down the outside wall, made Tug Kennedy’s freshman swimming team, was invited to join Alpha Delta Phi, became a DQ tenor and sang for the rest of his life. The Yale School of Forestry completed his academic pursuits.
He began his career in commercial real estate with R. M. Bradley and became a successful, respected developer/investor—the financial and energy sources that fueled his passion for nature conservation. This led to his dedicated service as a trustee/director of numerous organizations such as the Conservation Law Foundation, Forest Society of Maine, the Appalachian Mountain Club and, dearest to his heart, the Chewonki Foundation.
He was a bionic man with replacement parts in knees, hips, shoulders and a double bypass, but none of that slowed his pursuit of vigorous physical activities. He skied downhill until his knees said, “no màs,” then devoted himself to cross-country skiing and created a trail near Jackson, New Hampshire, that bears his name. He ran the Allagash, Penobscot and St. John Rivers multiple times with family and friends. In mid-life, he became a Sisyphean aspirant to ever more competitive tennis. But the capstone to his later outdoor world was as skipper of the sailboat Katabatic. With a younger but experienced and dedicated crew, it was the “boat to beat” in New England for more than two decades.
Even when he slowed down, he was quietly engaged. He sailed recreationally with his wife, Taffy, and they regularly escaped to a camp in a remote Maine location. He was an accomplished woodworker and created several handsome pieces of furniture. He published Satan in the Pulpit, a history of the Phillips family and the founding of the academies in Andover and Exeter.
And always, there was Amherst. He liked to affect a Maine accent and addressed his sophomore roommate Bob “R. B.” Skeele as Ah Bee. During his early working years, he and Ted Phillips ’52 sang in an octet (The Racketeers) and in a barbershop quartet. He and Ted canoed New England rivers with their sons. With his omnipresent pipe and flyrod, he, Jack Vernon and four Amherst alums became woefully lost on a two-week canoe trip through uncharted Canadian backcountry. There, while running a class four rapid single-handed, he dislocated his shoulder, but when he was fished out, his pipe was locked in place. He succeeded John Stookey ’52 as head of the Berkshire Choral Festival and was president from 1996 to 2004. (BCI still gives 1,200 amateur singers week-long experiences performing classical works in various venues each summer.) Gordon often went cruising with the Stookeys, and John’s wife, Appy, reports that in the early evening, Gordon often swam around the harbor pausing to chat with other travelers as they were having cocktails.
He was a pillar of purple for the class of ’52 and the College. President Julian Gibbs officially named the class of 1952 The First Sabrina Class for its fundraising accomplishments. But Nick Evans ’52 learned differently. Gordon’s grandfather was the class of 1882, and in that Olio, Gordon found it was the first class to kidnap Sabrina, and their motto was The First Sabrina Class. When our class took exception to the perfidy of Amherst’s leadership regarding Lord Jeff, Gordon and fellow alum Don MacNaughton ’65 set the record straight with Lord Jeffery Amherst, a history of his tour of duty in the colonies prior to the revolution. They argued convincingly that it was not possible to hold him accountable for, or as an accomplice to, any of the alleged misdemeanors. The book is in the Frost Library. He was chair of the College’s Amherst Fund and received the Medal for Eminent Service. He. served as class president several times and, in 2022, was voted so in perpetuity.
A man for all seasons, Gordon will be remembered by numberless cohorts as generous, caring, positive and unendingly supportive. We miss him but are thankful he was part of our lives.
Jack Vernon ’52