Writing about Jim Gordon is a daunting task, because his life was just too big for words.
Jim was a mountain of a man, larger than life, a real warrior. He has passed on (Sept. 2, 2021, just three days shy of his 75th birthday), and Lincoln has lost a true Renaissance man and one of our most important leaders.
There’s a memorial for heroes that says, instead of mourning these people, let’s celebrate the fact that they lived, and were here for us.
In that spirit, here are just a few of the things to celebrate about the life of Jim Gordon.
All Lincoln Public Schools students were once required to memorize the Athenian Oath. This was a pledge taken by the youth of ancient Athens in which they were asked that during their lifetime, they would leave Athens a better place than it was before.
Jim met those requirements for Lincoln and for the world. Lincoln would not be the town it has become without him.
One thing we are proud of in Lincoln is our trails system. Jim, alongside Elaine Hammer, co-chaired the first trails bond issue. It could be said that without him, we might not have the vast, impressive trails system we have today. Jim spoke about the bond issue to every group he could find, large or small, whether it was early in the morning or late at night. In typical unselfish Jim Gordon style, he did this for the community, even though walking long distances himself was not necessarily his best thing.
Another thing we’re proud of in Lincoln is our beautiful, wonderful, ever-improving Children’s Zoo. Jim had a large part in recruiting the zoo’s current director, John Chapo, and supported Chapo's vision for the zoo. The rest is history. Without Jim, our zoo might not be what it has become under Chapo’s leadership.
Those are just some of Jim's local impacts. He was also a benefactor at the national level as national chair of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, providing leadership to improve the lives of children all across the country.
As a youth soccer coach, I had opportunity to study the way parents work. Mothers usually showed up for their children’s games. At that time, which was 40 years ago, before women’s sports were more accepted, fathers were less likely to attend, and this was especially true of fathers with daughters playing sports. I was privileged to coach one of Jim’s daughters, and he never missed a game.
Jim was a war hero who fought in Vietnam and was severely injured by friendly fire. But he didn’t let that stop him, instead using it to define himself. He would stomp around town with his cane and big grenadier mustache. He was self deprecating, and if you asked him about himself he would always deflect the conversation, usually through his mother or his daughters.
Jim was also a clown. I first got to know him through the Gridiron Show. One well-known story about Jim was a skit in which he starred, called “Gordo of the Dance.” Imagine a line of middle-aged people, stomping on the stage to the Riverdance music. Then the lights go down and the spotlight hits Jim Gordon, a very big man with his very big mustache and the tightest tights imaginable, bare on the top except for shining baby oil, doing his best to stomp with his cane.
In his professional life he was a lawyer, and when people came to him for a divorce, the first thing he often did was try to talk them out of it. His compassion knew no bounds.
He was a recognized leader, a member of an early Leadership Lincoln Fellows class, and received one of the first awards for alumni distinguished service.
Jim was ecumenical. While he was Jewish, he showed up every year for caroling. A favorite memory is of him leading a line of carolers down the street, singing “Do Wah Diddy,” still one of my favorite Christmas carols.
If you didn’t have the privilege of knowing Jim and want a snapshot of what he was like, think of the character of the Ghost of Christmas Present in the movie “Scrooge.” That is Jim Gordon, a party in progress.
Lincoln has benefited immeasurably from Jim’s presence. His passing has left a huge hole in our community, and we will all miss him enormously.