Herb Gordon died early in morning on Tuesday, February 2, 2016. He was an extraordinary human being, a mentor and friend.
He was not someone that all that many people heard about.
After returning from serving in World War II, he went into business and by the time he was in his late 40’s he had it all – the American Dream. He was a leader and principle in a Fortune 500 company, Allied Products, he had a beautiful apartment on Lake Shore Drive, wealth and prestige, a fishing retreat he’d purchased from Ted Williams on Islamorada in the Florida Keys. He fished and golfed, played poker with some very interesting old friends, loved his children. And he began thinking that something was missing.
Somehow he had decided that money wasn’t everything and that he wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. He wanted to be a contribution in people’s lives. He gave all the trappings of wealth, let go of his position with the company, went to school to study psychology and became active in the field of child welfare. With his own money he founded Illinois’ first Community Advancement Program, serving underserved and abused wards of the state of Illinois.
I am certain that his old friends (who included some very prominent people) did not understand what he was doing.
The last couple of years Herb retreated to his home on Islamorada – a place that and his partner of 34 years, Sally Zink Gordon, shared and loved. Though the island changed around them, their home was a haven of peace and tranquility – a place where time stood still. Right up until the last few years Herb found a way to get out on his little skiff and go fishing.
I met Herb when I was in my early twenties. He gave me my first job, running a little summer camp and working with children who were wards of the state. With Herb’s support, Michael Plecki, Paul Carrier and I started TLP – a first of its kind, transitional living program for teens, helping them to prepare for independent living. That program is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year.
Herb never sought the limelight. Quietly he nurtured young adults and provided them with opportunities to grow and experiment and develop leadership skills. For many years he volunteered with the Executive Service Corps and worked to improve the Chicago Public Schools.
Over the years Herb and I kept in touch – and then, in the 1980’s he became tired of hearing me complain about what was happening in the field of adoption. One night in 1985, over dinner at the Blue Mesa on Halsted, (Sally and Cathy were there) Herb looked me in the eye and said, “When are you going to stop complaining about what you see going on with adoption and start doing something about it. I’ll help. Start an adoption agency that will do what you think should be done! Enough complaining, do something!”
Frankly speaking, it is unlikely that Family Resource Center/Adoption Center of Illinois would have come into being without his encouragement, support and push to get into action.
Without the seed he planted, it is very possible that none of what I’ve done in the past 30 years would have happened. In a real sense thousands of children and families don’t know that they owe a debt of gratitude to a man they never met or heard of.
I got to see Herb and Sally back in August. He asked if I would come and see him and I am so glad that I did. Sally was wonderful with Herb – the way anyone would hope their partner would be when they were going through hard times. Though we didn’t really speak about it, Herb and I knew then that it was likely the last time we would see each other.
What a wonderful man. Hats off to Herb Gordon – I am so grateful that he touched my life. May his soul rest in peace