WILLIAM E. GORDON
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WILLIAM E. GORDON, 92, scientist, educator and administrator at Cornell and Rice Universities, died in Ithaca, New York on February 16, 2010. Bill was born in Patterson, New Jersey on January 8, 1918. He attended public schools in Totowa Borough, and worked his way through Montclair State Teachers College, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1939 and an M.S. in 1942. He also earned an M.S. in Meteorology from New York University in 1946 and a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1953.In 1941, Bill married Elva Freile, his college sweetheart. They were happily married for 61 years and had a son and a daughter. Bill is survived by his son, Larry Gordon and wife Christine of Centerville, MA, his daughter, Nancy Ward and husband George of Austin, TX; four grandchildren, Matthew Gordon and wife Kelly of Alpharetta, GA, Amanda Gordon of Boulder, CO, George Ward and Elizabeth Ward, both of Austin, TX; and three great grandsons, Jacob, Kyle and Andrew Gordon of Alpharetta. He is also survived by his second wife, Elizabeth Bolgiano Gordon, of Ithaca, NY.Before World War II, Bill taught in junior high schools in Mendham and Oradell, New Jersey. During the War, he served in the Army Air Corps, studying and teaching meteorology at New York University and experimenting with radar. Following the War he continued his radar work at the Electrical Engineering Research Labs at The University of Texas at Austin, and then moved to Cornell University where he pursued graduate studies and research, earning a Ph.D. Bill was on the faculty of Cornell from 1953 until 1966, living with his family in the nearby town of Dryden, New York, fixing up an old house and growing a huge garden.While at Cornell, Bill conceived of the idea for the world's largest radar. He received international recognition for the design of the massive 1,000 foot dish that would collect energy waves beyond the Earth's atmosphere. He oversaw construction of the radio telescope near Arecibo, Puerto Rico and was director of the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory from 1963 until 1965. This remarkable facility has mapped the surface of Venus, discovered planets outside our solar system and sent messages in search of life beyond our own. Throughout his career, Bill mentored graduate students in their research at the telescope. He was an inspiration to these students and proud of their careers and achievements. One of his former students, now head of upper atmospheric research at the National Science Foundation, said of Bill, "He was probably the greatest man I ever knew. You don't see people like him very often. Perhaps once in a lifetime."At the fortieth anniversary of the radar's dedication, the Observatory won two prestigious awards, putting it in the top ten engineering achievements of all time. In his comments at the anniversary, Bill spoke about building the radar: "We were told by eminent authorities it couldn't be done. We were in the position of trying to do something that was impossible, and it took a lot of guts. We were young enough that we didn't know we couldn't do it." And so they did.In 1966, Bill and Elva moved to Houston, where he became a professor of space science and electrical engineering at Rice University. He also served as Dean of Science and Engineering, Dean of Natural Sciences, Interim President, and was Provost and Vice-President at the time of his retirement in 1986. He retired with the honor of being named Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Space Physics and Astronomy at Rice.Bill had the distinction of being the Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences (1986-1990), and of also being a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He belonged to and was an officer of many learned societies, a Guggenheim fellow in 1972-73, a vice president of the International Council of Scientific Unions, and an honorary president of the International Radio Science Union. He was also a member of the Texas Philosophical Society, the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and on the Board of Trustees of Cornell University. Bill received the Balth Van der Pol gold medal in 1966, the Arktowski gold medal in 1984, a USSR Academy of Sciences award in 1985 for contributions to international geophysical programs, and the centennial medal of the University of Sofia in 1988.Bill and Elva traveled the world for business and pleasure, gathering friends as they went. They had the honor of an audience with Pope John Paul II, visited the White House on more than one occasion, and knew and worked with distinguished scientists from around the world, including Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his early peace efforts during the Cold War. He was a consultant to industry, an advisor to the Air Force and Navy, and counseled many nations on large radar projects.Bill and Elva were long-standing members of the First Congregational Church in Houston. He was also an active supporter and President of the Board of Taping for the Blind in Houston. He was able to find a frequency for radio broadcasts for those with visual disabilities in the Houston area so they could enjoy newspaper and magazine articles on a special radio.Outside of work, Bill liked to raise tropical plants he had discovered in Puerto Rico. He and Elva enjoyed sailing "Dulcinea" on Galveston Bay with family and friends, and spending summers at their cottage on Cape Cod. The cottage was a gathering place for their children and grandchildren and the source of fond family memories. Family weddings, birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated on the screen porch there. In addition to reunions at Cape Cod, in 2001 the entire family gathered in Puerto Rico to celebrate the inaugural William E. and Elva F. Gordon Distinguished Lecture at the Arecibo Observatory, and to spend time together at the beach.In 2003, after the deaths of their respective spouses, Bill married Mary Elizabeth Bolgiano, a friend of long standing, and moved to Ithaca, NY. They enjoyed a wonderful second marriage which included traveling to Europe, Puerto Rico, visits to Houston, the west coast, and time spent with their expanded circle of family and friends. Each of them realized how fortunate they were to have had two happy marriages.Bill was a loving and patient father who encouraged his family to "reach for the stars." He loved to spend time with his children, his four grandchildren and his three great grandsons, and was so proud of each of them. He was a level-headed scientist with a huge heart. He was an intellectual who was recognized for his scientific work, but those who knew him will remember him for his kind, gentle soul. He loved life and loved his family as they loved him. He will be missed.Arrangements are being made for memorial services at Rice and Cornell. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the Gordon Fellowship at the Rice Space Institute, the Gordon Scholarship at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice, or to the Gordon Distinguished Lectureship at Cornell.


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Published in Houston Chronicle on Feb. 27, 2010.
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11 entries
March 9, 2010
My deepest sympathy to the family of Bill Gordon. When I was growing up, he and my father worked together at Rice University. In fact, it came as a great surprise to me to learn that Dr. Gordon's first name was Bill; I had always assumed it was Dean because of my father's references to Dean Gordon (as in Dean of Natural Sciences at Rice). Later, when I was in college, Dr. Gordon gave me summer jobs in his office --- the Dean's office. He was a pleasure to work for; he was kind, warm and patient with a kid who wasn't quite sure about typing letters for him when his secretary was away. I have very fond memories of him then and from the few times I was lucky enough to visit with him since then. He was a remarkable man in many, many ways! He will be missed!
Terry Walters
March 1, 2010
Dear Nancy, Larry, Liz and families, I offer condolences in a troubling time. But as I think of Bill, I see him with a gentle smile, offering clarification and encouragement. He touched my life in many ways, first as a grad student of Henry Booker. Years later he invited me to come to Puerto Rico for a year at the newly-completed Arecibo Observatory. Gordon Pettengill was already there and we scrambled to get echoes from Venus as she came closest to the earth. The one-year visit became 15. Sadly, Bill left for a post at Rice University although we continued to meet at geophysical meetings elsewhere. Two years ago we met at the annual Gordon Lecture. I shared some moments with Bill and he was very much the scientist, mentor and friend that he was to me through years past. I visited the Observatory last week and heard his name mentioned with fondness and respect by the few old-timers that remain. Carole and I share your sadness at his passing.
~Rolf Dyce
March 1, 2010
William Gordon
March 1, 2010
Dear Liz & families, You have already heard, but I wish to join others in saying that Bill was a giant in his field. Not only was he a gifted, visionary scientist, but he had a magic about him, a commanding presence that made him a leader. He was eager to share, and this combination of talents rubbed off on his colleagues and especially his students. I find comfort, and I know you do too, in knowing that he lives on through all the lives he has touched.
Alex Dessler
March 1, 2010
I was a graduate student at Cornell in 1958 when Bill gave his first seminar about the idea -- incoherent scatter from electrons in the ionized part of the upper atmosphere -- that led, in a remarkably short time, to the construction of the giant Arecibo Observatory radar. Bill was a remarkable man. He had an amazing ability to get people to work together in harmony to accomplish great things. He moved, with his and four or five other families, to Puerto Rico for five years to plan and supervise the construction of the 1000 foot diameter radar and radio telescope in just a few years. I have known Bill ever since and served on a few committees that he chaired. He was a superb chairman who somehow gently managed to get all of us to work very hard to produce the required report on time. He had a long and productive life, and all of us who knew him will miss him.
Don Farley
February 28, 2010
Dear Nancy, Larry, Liz & families: I wanted to take this opportunity to express my condolences to all members of your family and to say how important Bill was to my life and career. He was Dean of Natural Sciences, Provost and important mentor at Rice when I was establishing my academic career. And, when I went to Washington as Director of the National Science Foundation and then Science Advisor to President Clinton, Bill was a key advisor, whose wise counsel I welcomed and used, wisely I hope. He was a model "civic scientist" who gave back, generously, to his profession and to the nation. Best wishes. Neal Lane
NEAL LANE
February 27, 2010
The Fabre family feels so blessed to have spent time with Bill during our holiday dinners here in Austin. What a gentle man, always so humble and kind.
He truly lived a full and inspirational life! Our deep sympathy is with you all at this sad time.
Carl and Ann Fabre
February 21, 2010
David and I were sorry to read of Bill's passing. There was a wonderful long friendship and respect between my family and yours--with charished memories in Texas, NY, MA and PR.
Bill will be remembered for his professional accomplishments, but for me it will be his sensitive and considerate manner. (in the late 40's and early 50's my sister Cindy and I thought of him as our surrogate father.) You have our deepest sympathy,
Betsy Hamlin Holloway (Virna Hamlin O'Connor's daughter)
February 19, 2010
Dear Liz,
Stella and I are so sad to read the news. We spent a very enjoyable time with you and Bill at the Observatory in 2005. Our prayers are with you.
Kris and Stella Merschrod
February 19, 2010
With a broken heart, I learned of Bill's passing. I will miss him very much. My prayers and thoughts go out to Liz and the rest of the family. I was able to share some quality time w/ Bill helping him with computer support at Kendal. I looked forward to every meeting as he was always eager to learn. He will be missed.
Scotty Rude
February 17, 2010
We are so sad to learn of Bill's death, although we knew he was failing before we left Ithaca. He lived a long and productive life, and for that you (family) and we can all be grateful. Our love to you, Liz, and to Larry and Nancy as well. Take care of yourselves at this difficult time.
Betty and Bob Matyas, Warminster, PA
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