Our longtime and beloved Society member Bob Gordon died on May 2. Here is a remembrance of Bob by Society Leader Joe Chuman, tributes to Bob from some of his many admirers in the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, and an obituary written by his family.
‘Let Us Feel Sustained by the Gifts That Bob Gordon Has Bequeathed to Us’
By Joe Chuman
As of this September, I would have known Bob for 50 years. My memories cannot be otherwise than deeply personal.
Love of his family was assuredly Bob’s first devotion. Next to his beloved family, our community was second. The Ethical Society was not an occasional commitment for Bob. It was a mainstay of his life. As with Azar, this commitment was expressed through his boundless work on our behalf. They were both tireless in the time and labor—and love—they gave to the community.
Most of us knew Bob through his commitment to our meetinghouse. I was often surprised to find him at night in our building when it was quiet, working alone, with his formidable tool bag at the ready, making repairs on our electrical system, or plumbing, on issues involving minute and technical details no one else would ever notice or care about—until they became problems for us. This he did at his own initiative for decades. He reported at board meetings, often with a long, scrolling list (always written in pencil—Bob had a propensity for mechanical pencils) of projects large and small that needed to be done to keep our building not only in good repair, but presentable. The problems were endless, sometimes chronic, but Bob was always on top of them. He had the requisite knowledge and skill, and these efforts were a deeply reaching expression of his commitment to our meeting place—and to us.
Here, I have to mention Azar, because they did this work together. Their work was cooperative and complementary, as was their marriage. While Bob was committed most of all to maintenance, Azar was responsible for our aesthetics—the curtains, the artwork on our walls, beautifying our entryway with flowers. And everyone should know that Azar almost annually repainted our main room, by herself alone, in a single day. They were a team in taking care of our building as they were in so much of their loving marriage of 54 years.
Bob’s interests ranged very widely and he expressed them through what he gave to the Society, Bob served as our president, and when he died he was our vice-president as well as our representative to our national organization. He was our liaison to the Rosa Parks School in Paterson, where he helped support the worthy recipient of the Society’s scholarships. And he never failed to give his time sleeping over at homeless shelters.
From creative writing to fundraising to choosing restaurants
Bob loved creative writing and for years co-edited the Focus. He led our Do Tell! group, and he organized the men’s dinner group, seeking out and vetting restaurants that brought us together for camaraderie and great cuisine. And I need to recall that Bob and Azar envisioned and co-organized our 50th and 60th gala anniversary events at the Clinton Inn. He assisted Azar in major fundraising concerts and related projects on the community’s behalf. Simply stated, their work and devotion on our behalf has been endless.
There was much more, which many of you will recall. But I can’t refrain from citing another of Bob’s accomplishments, for which I speculate there may have been a personal tie-in. Bob was amazingly physically fit, though he suffered from a number of health challenges, among them leukemia, which he endured for many years. I think keeping himself in top shape was an answer to those issues that challenged him. When I was 47, I fulfilled a lifelong dream by riding my bicycle across the United States. I prided myself on the fact that I was a bit on the old side to have taken on such an arduous challenge. But then, about a decade ago, Bob ventured forth on a solo bicycle trip of his own from his home in Upper Saddle River to Los Angeles. (Could there have been a little bit of competition here?) But at the time, Bob was 70 years old!!! It was truly an amazing accomplishment!
Bob was an avid skier. He went on a ski adventure every year, the last being earlier this year. And he was an occasional skydiver, as well. Bob was an aficionado of crossword puzzles and he loved music.
Bob was many things: He was gregarious; he enjoyed sharing jokes and telling them. I hope I got this right. Bob was a systems analyst who worked for several years in Saudi Arabia, where he indulged his passion for scuba diving. While in Saudi, he needed to take on an Arabic name. He appropriated the name “Muhammad Ali,” no doubt trying to put one over on the locals.
Bob and Azar were world travelers
Bob and Azar also loved to travel and visited almost every continent. In the 1970s, they spent several years in Azar’s native Iran. (Bob always loved to share occasional Farsi phrases and adages). When the Islamic Revolution took over the country in 1979, we hadn’t heard from them, and I got concerned. I called the State Department to see if they could track them down. It was a relief to find out that they were okay and able to return safely home.
Bob, as we know, had no trouble speaking his mind, even when he stood alone. And if truth be told, Bob could sometimes be contentious. Though more importantly, I never knew him to hold a grudge.
But perhaps most revealing of his character was Bob’s peerless love for his family. Azar and Bob complemented each other marvelously, each was a source of powerful love and strength for the other. Bob was Azar’s best friend and support. Gregg has expressed his tremendous love, admiration, and honor for his father, unusually strong, I think, in a father-son relationship. According to Gregg, his father was his “best friend” and “role model.” I think it is a beautiful testament. Bob loved Azar’s children, Michael and Leila, also, and they considered Bob their dad. He was very devoted to Gregg’s wife, Roya. And then there is his beloved grandson, Kian.
It is impossible to believe that Bob is gone. His love of life was so strong. Death brings a penetrating sense of absence, but also the presence of warm memories. Let us evoke those memories and feel sustained by the gifts that Bob Gordon has bequeathed to us. Thank you, Bob. It was beautiful.
Our Society has been greatly diminished by the loss of Bob Gordon. His unending devotion to us as a constant presence, quietly correcting the many needs of our building, happily presenting pins and necklaces to longtime members, and just being available for assistance whenever needed, not forgetting his many years of service to our Board. I personally will miss his warm and kind attention to me, even visiting me with the lovely Azar when I was recently confined to a care facility recovering from pneumonia. What a loss to us all!
What a shock and what a loss. Bob’s contributions to Ethical are unique and immeasurable. His interests ranged so widely, from electrical wiring to storytelling, from skiing to editing Focus, from serving on the Board to trimming our trees. You could almost see Bob’s brain working like a hamster in a maze, problem-solving every little thing to maximize the building’s potential.
When I was president and Ethical Brew needed a place to store its equipment, Bob and I brainstormed solutions. He was eager to serve our needs and be a good team player, while being careful not to detract from the aesthetic of the main room. Bob designed an attractive arrangement of doors behind the piano. Then he made sure it was built, and built well.
Bob was so much a part of the fabric of our Ethical Society, it’s hard to imagine the place without him.
I can only hope his family can derive some comfort from knowing how valued he was and how cherished his memory is.
Bob Gordon Led Us and Served Us
The tale of Bob Gordon is sweet and is long:
a life to admire, commitments so strong.
Born on this earth in nineteen thirty-seven,
when Kian was born, he thought it was heaven.
Bob played many roles in his long, full life,
and one of his favorites was man to his wife.
With Azar, Upper Saddle River became home,
but it didn’t quite stop Bob’s wishes to roam
from the Rockies to Saudi Arabia, from the West Coast to Iran.
“We’ll travel, I’ll bike, I’ll ski, while I can.”
Bob’s devotion to Ethical can’t be denied.
He led us! He served us! He fixed things with pride!
We mourn as he leaves, for parting Is hell,
but we Feel his spirit. It wishes us well
The friendship between the Gopoians and the Gordons goes back many decades. In fact, it was a three-couple friendship, as we called ourselves the 3 G’s, the Gordons, the Gopoians, and the Garvals. We did many things together, most of them revolving around our very active involvement in our Ethical Society, but not all. I have very pleasant memories of fall foliage drives (that also involved some wine tasting). But as we know, nothing lasts forever; the guys are now all gone and it is up to Azar, Fritzi, and me to keep it going. Actually, I should not say that, because our children have done an excellent job of keeping that closeness going into the next generation!
Rest in peace, Bob!
How do you write about Bob Gordon without mentioning how indispensable he was to the maintenance of our meetinghouse? It’s hard but, other than by asking that question, we’ll try. Let’s start with his sense of humor. Sly and dry. His smile when teasing or telling a joke—and oh, how he loved to tell jokes—is so easy to picture.
Rather than go into detail about all of Bob’s many noteworthy contributions to our Society, we’ll focus on one: Bob, like Harry Strickholm before him, was an active contributor to, supporter of, and liaison to the AEU. We believe that’s because Bob, a supremely practical man, believed in the importance of structure. His ethics were practical, not simply theoretical. In other words, we could always count on Bob to take a stand not just for what should be done, but for what could be done.
Maybe it’s a good thing that we’ve been forced to stay away from our Ethical Society for a while, because we’ll need time to imagine being in our meetinghouse without him.
Diana and Ed Gross
In the late 60’s the Gopoians, the Gordons, and the Garvals arrived at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck. For our children, this was the right place; we felt comfortable there; we fit right in with the group of people we met and made lifelong friends. We felt especially close to the Gordons and Gopoians and were known as the 3 G’s.
The Social Affairs Committee put on dinner parties followed by “belly dancing” by Azar, which she did extremely well (after all, a few years later she danced at the Teheran Hilton). She insisted on teaching us how to do it. Well, we were shaking our bellies with more or less expertise, but it did not matter—we had a lot of fun, anyway. Azar was dancing and Bob was watching proudly
Gregg, the adorable, lovable child was born, and the family was complete.
Then Bob found employment with an American company in Iran and they moved there. We felt badly and missed them very much.
Bob kept us informed; he wrote long letters describing their life in this very different country. We were looking forward to these letters; every time such a letter arrived, my husband brought it to the dinner table and after we finished our meal, he enjoyed reading Bob’s letters to the family. They were not only informative, letting us know about their life and experiences in Iran, but at the same time hilarious. We laughed tears. He was quite a letter writer! Unfortunately I didn’t save these letters. Bob attempted to learn Farsi. Unknowingly he would use a word with a different intonation, which gave it a different, even “dirty ” meaning. This could be quite embarrassing.
After the Iran revolution they came back, first Azar under frightening circumstances and a little later Bob.
I first got to know Bob well when he began a project to build the retaining wall in the playground. It’s the wall you see on the far side of the playground, next to the parking lot, the wall that prevents the parking lot from collapsing into the playground. This was what I later came to know as one of Bob’s “work parties,” and as Susan and I were fairly new to Ethical, I thought it would be a good chance to get involved with the Society and get to know some of the people.
I believe it was in the summer because it was hot and we all agreed that we needed to drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration. It was brutally hard work. Not only did we use shovels to dig a trench for the wall (the kind of trench a construction company would have brought in a backhoe to dig out), but we had to punch dozens of rebars through the stacked wood that comprised the wall—4 or 5 feet thick from top to bottom—and then another foot or so into the packed ground underneath. We punched the rebar with sledgehammers and I’d never before used a sledgehammer in my life. I was raised as a nice, middle-class Jewish boy and nice, middle-class Jewish boys are supposed to work with their heads, not their hands. And certainly not with sledgehammers. There weren’t a lot of us working on this project, either, only five or six people on any one day, so it was a lot of work for just a few hands. The only other person on the project that I remember besides Bob was Harry Strickholm—another pretty interesting guy, but that’s another story.
Bob was a beast. I mean that in the slang sense, in which one man describes the extraordinary strength, stamina, and resilience of another man in an admiring way. As in, “You should have seen Bob with that sledgehammer, he was a beast.”
Having to work at my real job during the week, I didn’t start until Saturday, and when I arrived Bob had already been working on it for a couple of days and had dug a part of that damn trench. There was a second trench we had to dig, too, not as deep but still it was a damn trench, for a drainage pipe that was supposed to draw rainwater away from the wood. He had done that weekday work in the heat. By himself. “I love hard manual labor,” Bob told me, matter of factly. He might as well have said, “I love sticking hot needles through my eyes” thought this nice Jewish boy. And when he showed us the plans for the wall, I asked him if he’d built many retaining walls before. He said, “No, this is the first. I got the plans off the Web. It didn’t look so bad.”
The morning after my first day at the “work party” I awoke aching all over. But I went back for more of the torture—and the camaraderie.
You probably never noticed, but behind the wall, in the space between the wall and the fence that demarcates the parking lot, is another wall, of sorts, made up of a layer of gravel running from the top of the wall down the full depth of the wall and even underground (which is also to say that we had to dig that damn trench even wider than the wood itself in order to accommodate the gravel wall). The purpose of the gravel was to allow rainwater to drain away from the wooden wall, hence the need for that drainage pipe. That gravel, hundreds of pounds of it, had been dumped in the parking lot by the supplier and we had to use wheelbarrows to wheel it around the fence, over the ground, and to the new wall. And how did the hundreds of pounds of gravel get from the ground into the wheelbarrow? And after we drove it around the fence and dumped by the wall, how did it get distributed and evened out? More shoveling. More hard, physical labor. Bob loved it.
I thought to myself, “David, this is why your parents told you to go to college.”
And the rest is history, so to speak. I would later learn that he’d trained to be a jet pilot in the Air Force (“I never feel motion sickness,” he said to me once as I was sitting as a passenger in his car and felt a bit queasy as we rounded a sharp curve), but had gotten into some big arguments with a superior officer over some matter of principle, the details of which I’ve forgotten, and he and the Air Force parted company (sounds just like Bob, I know). And he’d worked as a computer programmer (my own profession) in Saudi Arabia and in Iran as well as in the U.S. And other stories. Many stories. And many jokes—usually politically incorrect but always funny.
For years I had dinner with Bob and a few of the other guys at the monthly men’s dinner. We were talking about his bicycle trip across the country once and I asked him why he did it. He said that when Joe Chuman biked across the country, he was among the party who greeted Joe at the trip’s end by the George Washington Bridge and that he was jealous of Joe. I’m sure he meant that he was jealous that Joe had performed this physically demanding, extreme proof of manhood while he, Bob, had never even thought of it. Of course, Joe was 47 when he rode cross country and Bob was 70, but what did that have to do with anything? That Bob Gordon, he was a beast!
Bob was an amazing person and we at Ethical will all miss him greatly. My husband and I met Bob and Azar at a party in Long Island over 50 years ago, and when I heard that they belonged to the Ethical Society, we had an immediate connection. We have been friends ever since and when the Gordons came back from Iran in 1979, they stayed at our house in Englewood until their house in River Edge was ready. I am still in disbelief when I think that Bob decided to ride his bike across the USA by himself at age 70. What guts, courage, stamina, and strength. Meshugginah? Is it any wonder that Gregg competes in triathlons? I will always remember Bob barbecuing at their wonderful Skills Auction pool parties, repairing so many things at the Ethical building, and serving in so many capacities as president and board member. He adored Azar and his children and grandson. Bob had a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed telling stories at “Do Tell!” on Friday evenings. I am so glad that in his final years he had the thrill of watching Kian grow and having Gregg and Roya and Kian in close proximity. I miss you, Bob. My sincere condolences to Azar, Gregg, Michael, Leila, and Roya.
The man who organized work parties for spreading mulch, repairing the basement after flooding, and painting our meetinghouse was the man who ably represented our Society on the board of the national American Ethical Union. The man who rode his bike across the country at age 70 was the man who, along with his beloved Azar, was the consummate party host. The man who wielded a hammer and a quick wit was the man who spotted a grammatical error buried in a sea of type.
Bob, who for many years edited our Focus newsletter, was a proofreader for it in recent years, a thankless job because the better you do it, the more invisible it is. Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he was adamant about not giving up proofing, turning in his last work near the end of April. His eagle eye never faltered.
When it came to dedication, talent, hard work, and joie de vivre, Bob was a giant among us. What a loss for our world; how rich I am for having known him.
I’m going to miss Bob. I’m going to miss his bad jokes…the ones where he was laughing before he got to the punchline because he was so tickled by it. I’m going to miss his hugs…heartfelt and big. I’m going to miss his can-do attitude…”of course we can do it!” I’m going to miss always seeing him at the meetinghouse, fixing something or measuring something or painting something or….Bob was our building. I’m going to miss him.
He seemed ageless. He looked 60 but was 83. He had a lean, muscular physique, befitting an athlete (cycling, skiing). I worked with him on the Building Committee–he could repair anything. He carried a weighty toolbox around the building scrutinizing the place for problems, small and large. We would discuss whether that piece of molding would be better secured by a nail or a screw. I always deferred to his experience. If this was not enough, Bob was an excellent writer. He occasionally submitted a piece to Focus that was always written in tight prose.
Bob was a kind man, one of the first members to call after we had left Teaneck for Putnam County—nothing fancy in his words, just honest concern.
Bob also didn’t give a whit about status–that impressed me the most about him. For many years he worked on oversized computers, but at one point he lost his job. Instead of whining, he began driving a limousine. As one who suffered a loss of status, going from a sociologist to a common laborer, I admired Bob’s courage.
In sum, Bob Gordon was a man of talent, character, and kindness, a man worthy of all the tributes he will certainly receive.
I always knew that Bob had personality, but really he shined through whenever we co-hosted Bergen Ethical Society’s Do Tell! True Story Nights and Story Development WorDshops. Bob shared story-telling tips he’d learned during a three-day Moth true-story-training workshop, and helped many people find the truth of their story–to make a better story, but to learn a bit about themselves, as well. He always brought a joke, or an anecdote, or wry comment.
He appreciated each person’s story, and he shared more than a few of his own, including his favorite–an extended tale of romance with his beloved wife, Azar, and their “three weddings.” Bob told tales of travels to Iran, his military service as a jet pilot, and some tough times growing up. Through it all, he told of a full life lived well, exuberant even through adversity.
Do Tell! was, of course, only a small part of Bob’s activity with the Bergen Ethical Society, but it was the one that helped me to know him well. It was always a pleasure to get to hear the memories he shared. We’ll honor Bob, and the unique forum he helped create, with a special Do Tell! True Stories Night in June, where people are invited to share their stories about a special person, Bob Gordon.
Bob Gordon fascinated me from the get-go. Multi-faceted as a diamond. Larger-than-life yet unassuming. Generous and kind. When you spoke to him, he listened, really listened. He didn’t have to say a word and you were glad to be in his company, such as the many Sundays we were in the foyer while platform was in progress, Bob with his perpetual “New York” magazine crossword puzzle.
Bob’s presence. Bob never lost that twinkle in his eye. And his laugh! It was warm and showed his appreciation for humor, the absurd, and wit. Bob was like E. F. Hutton: When Bob spoke, you not only listened, but you shut out the rest of what was going on.
One of Bob’s best moments was his immense devotion, dedication to, and love for his wife, Azar, when she had her health issues. Not much was spoken but you just felt it. It was perfect. The same for Bob’s fidelity to his family, especially Gregg and his grandson. Bob was a born family man and I admired him greatly for it.
As mentioned by Eric, Bob was an integral part of Do-Tell. He was a founder of the group. He loved hearing others’ stories as much as sharing his own. And I always looked forward to a “Bob Story.” He took you back to his childhood, his family in the Bronx, college, his treks across this country and around the world, his jobs, the people he met, and of course, Azar. He reveled in these stories and revealed himself without restriction.
One more thing: Bob was a hugger. He was kind and affectionate and that was often displayed by a long bear hug that relished the soul. I can’t yet imagine Ethical reconvening in the future without Bob in attendance. I know my eyes will be darting around the room, looking for him. Yeah, he’ll be “there,” but not on my terms. I’m going to settle for Bob living in my memories.
Aimee Brett Kass
In my mind I can see Bob carrying a screwdriver, grilling kabobs, and penciling in a crossword. I can’t fathom that I’ll never again actually see his wry smile, or hear him making a great suggestion at a meeting. His philosophy was being helpful. His deep meaning was decency. His loyalty was to the Society. His love was for Azar and his family. My deepest condolences to Azar, Gregg, and his splendid family. But I offer condolences to anyone who knew him; we are all diminished.
When I dropped things off at the Gordons occasionally, I’d be invited to stay to have dinner with Bob and Azar. Always delicious and good conversation.
I’d occasionally ask Bob’s advice about a problem around my house–he’d offer to come down and fix it. He did that for others, also. I still have a flat, toothed blade he gave me for clearing out plumbing blockages.
Bob and I wrote and edited Focus together for about 10 years, back when it was printed in dark green ink on light green paper and 300 copies a month were mailed–a big job!. Bob later took over doing it himself when it became too much work for me in addition to administrative responsibilities.
Bob was thoughtful and kind in ways not everyone knew about. He would talk to members and ask how they were doing, and he listened and remembered what he heard.
For many, many years, Bob did most of the routine work to maintain the meetinghouse–any issue that came to the office, I referred to him. He and Azar would clean and paint the meeting room, lobby, and kitchen, with work parties of members every August to get the building looking good for the start of the fall season. Azar did all the outdoor plantings, with help from Bob.
Bob would come down at all hours to fix things. And just about every week he came to fix one problem or another for the day-care center. He’d always have a big hug for some of the staff he was particularly close to.
Bob was feisty and funny. He’d argue hard for his position, but if he didn’t get his way, he’d concede the point–he just kept on “keepin’ on” with grace and generosity.
I will always remember Bob and Azar togther, both dressed so elegantly, at the Society’s 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations, organized by Azar, with labor from Bob.
Bob Gordon’s Obituary
Robert M. (Bob) Gordon, born February 28, 1937, in the Bronx, NY, died May 2, 2020, at his home in Upper Saddle River, NJ, after a brief battle with lung cancer.
Bob grew up in Cambria Heights, NY; was educated at Hobart College in Geneva, NY; served as an officer in the US Air Force; worked as a systems analyst for several major corporations; and upon retirement, enjoyed substitute teaching at local schools.
He married Azar Gordon, nee Pirnazar, in 1966, and became father to daughter Leila Meresman and son Michael Meresman. They had son Gregg Gordon in 1971. He became grandfather to Kian Gordon in 2016.
A lover of world travel and adventure, he accepted a major career opportunity, moving the family to Tehran, Iran, in 1973, and staying through the beginning of the 1979 revolution. He subsequently took on an assignment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he enjoyed the chance to snorkel and explored the Red Sea. Vacation travel included nearly all continents. The family relocated to Upper Saddle River, NJ, in 1980, which remains home to the Gordon/Meresman family.
As a member of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County since the late 1960s, Bob served in many executive roles including President, Vice President, Treasurer-elect, Building Chair, and Liaison to the American Ethical Union. He co-founded a writing group called Do Tell and authored a fiction book. He was the Society’s liaison to the Rosa Parks High School in Paterson, NJ, and was pivotal in securing scholarships for its students.
A lifetime of community service included, most recently, volunteering at Bergen County Homeless Shelter, serving as an election monitor in Upper Saddle River, and being a docent to Bergen County Zoo in Van Saun Park, which incorporated his love of animals.
An avid skier, he most recently skied with his family in the Canadian Rockies in March 2020 at age 83. He also solo cycled from NJ to Los Angeles at age 70, and from St. Louis, MO, to NJ at age 72.
Bob had a profound love of nature, animals, classical music, puzzles, and intellectual pursuits, and further was a skilled handyman. He valued deed above creed and demonstrated his ethical values by his life’s example. He is beloved and missed by all who knew him.
The family suggests that, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to:
Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
Attn: Bob Gordon Commemorative Fund
687 Larch Avenue
Teaneck, NJ 07666