Ralph Gordon, longtime journalist, dies at 86

  • GORDON

Published: 9/13/2021 5:06:35 PM

GREENFIELD — A Greenfield man and his family were on a cross-country trip in the 1970s when their car broke down in the Texas Panhandle. To help everyone endure the 102-degree heat, the patriarch bought straw cowboy hats to keep the sun off their heads. One of those hats became synonymous with Ralph E. Gordon Sr., and the sincere form of local news reporting he practiced, for the rest of his life.

“It was his trademark,” son Jeffrey Gordon recalled.

Gordon, 86, died peacefully at Baystate Franklin Medical Center with his family by his side on Sept. 8, following a period of declining health.

It was the end of a life of community journalism that began and ended at the Greenfield Recorder. Before handling the court logs for his hometown newspaper, Gordon spent the vast majority of his career with the Springfield Union-News, spending much of more than 40 years working out of Greenfield as the Franklin County bureau chief.

“He’d go outside for a cigarette — before he quit smoking — and people would just stop and talk with him,” Jeffrey Gordon said. “And that’s how he, often, got stories — because everyone in town knew him.”

While working for the Union-News, Gordon was perhaps best known for his weekly column titled “Never A Bad Day,” in which he praised local unsung heroes.

“The theme of the article was, really, if you look every day for special things, special people, then you may have a tough day, but you will never have a bad day,” Jeffrey Gordon said. “And that was his philosophy of life.”

After leaving the Union-News, Gordon again started working at the Recorder, unable to kick his news habit.

Jeffrey said his father was proud to have interviewed countless celebrities during his career, as well as presidential candidates and foreign royalty.

The elder Gordon’s death came 50 hours after that of Charlotte (Crosier) Gordon, his first wife and the mother of his children. Charlotte died peacefully on Sept. 6, also at Baystate Franklin at age 86 after a period of declining health. Jeffrey Gordon said his mother was a nurse until her death (having always maintained her license) and eventually became a spiritualist minister in Lake Pleasant.

Gordon married Priscilla (Warner) Gordon — who acquired land transfers from the Franklin County Registry of Deeds for the Recorder to publish until recently — 31 years ago.

Jeffrey recalled how for many years his father relished being the “old guy” during police and fire department basketball fundraisers, which stole gimmicks from the Harlem Globetrotters. Gordon was known to step up to the free-throw line and — just before he was about to shoot — pretend to fall asleep, only to be “awoken” by a teammate’s kick to his rear end.

George Forcier, a former editor of the Recorder, oversaw Gordon’s work and recalled him fondly as a competitor-turned-employee.

“He couldn’t stay away from the newsroom. He was a sweetheart, just the nicest guy,” he said. “As a news guy, I more remember him as competitive. He lived and worked in town so long that he must have known every other person on the street.”

Forcier said Gordon had an incredible depth of sources. Forcier for years taught journalism classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and used Gordon as an example of someone who really got his fingers into the soil of a community.

“He’d always be perpetually standing around the corner of Main Street and Bank Row, talking to somebody,” said longtime Recorder reporter Diane Broncaccio. “He knew everybody”

She recalled one instance when she, Gordon and some others went to Charlemont to cover a visit of then-Gov. William Weld, who had not been to Western Massachusetts in a while, to promote tourism. Everyone went to Zoar Outdoor to take the governor down the Deerfield River in a whitewater raft.

“To my surprise, Ralph jumped in the line with the governor’s aides and they gave him a wetsuit,” Broncaccio recalled, adding that Gordon fell into the river. She said then-state Rep. Jay Healy quipped that Gordon was “in the drink” and joked that they tried to not allow Gordon back on the raft “but he wouldn’t let go.”

Memorial services will be held on Thursday, Sept. 16, at 1 p.m. at Green River Cemetery in Greenfield. Guests are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing. A private visitation will be held for family only.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Gordon’s honor can be sent to the Franklin County Agricultural Society, Attn: Treasurer Suzanne Hunter, P.O. Box 564, Greenfield, MA 01302-0564.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262. Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.




Greenfield Recorder

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Phone: (413) 772-0261
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