July 3, 2007

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Bob Gordon died last Saturday (June 30, 2007) in Jackson, Mississippi at the age of 69. He had been in failing health the last few months. He was a good friend.

A native of McComb, Mississippi, Bob was a graduate of Ole Miss and had a stellar career as a reporter, and later manager, with United Press International (UPI). He also served as managing editor of the Clarion Ledger in Jackson and executive editor of the Hattiesburg American.

It was during his early years with UPI that Bob covered many of the major civil rights clashes in the South, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign in Birmingham, Alabama in 1962-63, and the church bombings that claimed the lives of four young black girls.

Bob didn’t talk much about those years, but in 1964 he covered the Freedom Summer campaign and spent much of the year in the Philadelphia, Mississippi area where three civil rights volunteers were slain. While covering school desegregation activities in Grenada in 1966, Bob was beaten by a mob. After several key jobs with UPI in the Carolinas and Washington, D. C., Bob decided to return to newspaper work in his native Mississippi.

His career in journalism was cut short in 1987, when he suffered a major heart attack. Bob was not yet 50 years old, and the prognosis was not good. Doctors were counting his future life span in months, not years. Fortunately, Bob overcame the odds and led a full – if somewhat less active – retired life for another 20 years. His obituary shares more detail.

In 1993 shortly after Karen and I moved to Jackson, Mississippi, we became acquainted with Bob and Jimmie Ray Gordon in a Methodist Sunday School class, and it was friendship at first sight! Bob and I enjoyed bantering back and forth about the media – Bob praising the glories of the print media, and I defending my broadcast brethren. Karen and Jimmie Ray became close friends as members of a ladies prayer group.

In the late 1990s, the prayer group ladies and their spouses began an annual tradition of an extended weekend away each spring – the first year on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and later in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. These April gatherings became a very special time for all of us – a time when we could rekindle our friendships with good food, great conversations, and a chance to “kick back” for a few days. A few photographs from these gatherings – featuring Bob -- are linked to this site.

We’ll always remember Bob’s warm smile, quick wit, dry humor, and unique laugh, which we all came to love. He was a dear friend, and we’ll all miss him deeply.

Our thoughts and prayers go to Jimmie Ray, who knows better than any of us what a truly remarkable man this was. How fortune we all were to have known Bob Gordon – and to be able to call him our friend.

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