W hen Julie Eagan became exalted ruler of Elks Lodge 1491 she received plenty of well-wishes but it was the gesture of her friend and colleague, Richard “Geezer” Gordon that she’ll never forget.
A lifetime member of the Elks and the son of a former exalted ruler, Gordon, who died last Thursday, gave Eagan his father’s personal necktie to signify the occasion.
“That made me very happy and it meant a lot to me,” Eagan said.
The gesture was indicative of a man who friends and colleagues remembered as an advocate for his hometown, a dedicated public servant, and above all a “good guy.”
“Geezer was a great person. There is other way to describe him,” said Patricia Norton, who served as mayor for 13 years and got to know Gordon well.
After graduating from Whitehall High School in 1956, Gordon embarked on a public career that spanned more than five decades.
He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 to 1961, was a correctional officer for more than 20 years, and spent another two decades as town and village justice, and two years as the town’s supervisor.
“He was always thinking about Whitehall. It was the first thing he thought of,” said Richard LaChapelle who knew and worked with Gordon for more than 25 years as the former chief and current sergeant of the Whitehall Police Department and a member of the town board.
“He never carried a grudge. We could have a disagreement on the board but it never carried over. After the meeting we would just move on and be fine,” said LaChapelle, who described Gordon as “like a father.”
That even-keeled approach served Gordon well during his 23 years on the bench, where he oversaw several high-profile cases including the drug-related arrest of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio in 2006.
Eagan, who had the opportunity to work with Gordon for several months before taking over for him as town and village justice four years ago, described him as a fair judge.
“He took pains to be fair but he was no pushover. If you deserved to be punished, he would punish you. He wasn’t afraid to do what needed to be done.
“He always tried to look at the big picture. Something he taught me was there is a difference between being a bad person who finally got caught and being a good person who made a mistake.”
Village trustee Ken Bartholomew, who worked alongside Gordon in the court office and considered him a friend, said Gordon had a knack for understanding people’s problems. “He always tried to help and he tried to give the young people a chance instead of just throwing the book at them.”
Besides his time on the bench, Gordon also spent an eventful two years as supervisor before stepping away last fall.
During his tenure the town continued work on the Troy Shirt Factory, oversaw the sale of the Armory, worked with state comptroller’s office to resolve discrepancies in the town’s finances, and played a significant role in getting the town offices to move, a goal that should finally be realized next week.
“He certainly brought a different perspective, which was a good thing,” said John Rymph, chairman of the Washington County Board of Supervisors. “He was very good at trying to promote Whitehall and looked out for the welfare of the people.”
George Armstrong said Gordon was very helpful in preparing him for the transition to supervisor, introducing him to fellow supervisors, bringing him to meetings and catching him up on county issues even though the men came from opposite sides of the political aisle and ran against each other in 2009.
“It’s too bad that kind of thing doesn’t happen in other areas of politics,” Armstrong said.
Gordon will also be remembered for his humor.
“He had a tremendous sense of humor. I used to get a kick out of him; he would come in every morning with a joke,” said Norton.
“He made it fun to go to work. Every day he would make me laugh. He knew everybody and knew a story about everyone,” said Eagan.
“He was one hell of a guy. He’s going to be missed,” said LaChapelle.