The first time I recall riding in a Volkswagen beetle the man behind the wheel was Alan Gordon. It was a dark green bug and to that point in my life – age four or five at the outside — constituted just about the most astonishing thing seen to date on the tar-covered or dirt roads of rural Danbury, N.C. In the early 1960s it was the land of Chevy trucks, Ford Falcons or Fairlanes and the occasional tractor pulling God knows what through the streets of town.
But Alan Gordon, just in his early 20s at the time, was different. First he wasn’t from Danbury, Stokes County or even North Carolina. What I came to find out over the next 50-plus years – is that Alan Gordon was from everywhere. He was a true citizen of the world before people even knew there was such a thing.
He wound up in Danbury the old-fashioned way. He met a young woman in college and followed her home to audition for the role of husband. And that’s why he was in little old Danbury tooling around at high speed on about four inches of snow in a car clearly not suited for such daredevil endeavors.
My brother and I loved it. My father was fascinated by it. For Alan it was just another day.
Alan Gordon would marry Nancy Kate Taylor, one of the prettiest women in the history of Stokes County, and become my uncle. Fifteen months ago we lost Nancy Kate to cancer. Thursday in Charlotte we lost Alan to myriad ailments that ultimately led to kidney failure. He was 78. The last time I saw him was at Nancy Kate’s funeral in June of 2016. He was devastated as were we all. The two of them met at Guilford College and were together for all of my life that I remember.
Alan Bernard Gordon was born on Nov. 19, 1938 and likely never had a boring day in his life. He was born in Vietnam to parents from British Columbia who traveled the world. Alan’s father was involved in foreign service, the military and the oil business. His travels took to him to Hanoi, India and Europe. I googled Alan’s father and saw him listed in one place as an “oil executive, spy.” Alan witnessed turbulent times on a shifting post-World War II landscape in Southeast Asia, India and Europe.
After graduating from high school in Scotland he wound up in Greensboro, which is where he met my aunt Nancy Kate. They married – with the reception on a rainy Saturday at my parents’ house – while he was still in Dental School at the University of North Carolina. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from this time when Alan and Nancy Kate would come to Danbury to visit or my brother and I would go to Chapel Hill and stay with them. Alan and Nancy Kate always found entertaining stuff for us to do. Mealtime was an adventure with Alan robustly insisting that our menus included exotic fare such as “roast rattlesnake” or “baked porcupine.” My brother and I were skeptics but also a little leery, too. After all, Alan was wholly unlike anyone we had ever known to that point in our lives. Could he really be serving roast rattlesnake, which seemed for all the world like roast beef?
Alan served a stint as an officer in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany, Maryland (Walter Reed Hospital) and Fayetteville (Fort Bragg) before evolving into the Army Reserve where he retired as a lieutenant colonel. He and Nancy Kate made lasting friendships at every stop, including their final and long-standing one in Charlotte where he established a successful dental practice. Alan and Nancy Kate never knew a stranger, all were welcome in their home and often they took in visitors from all parts of the world. A rock band even lived in their basement for time.
I don’t believe I ever met a more capable and competent man than Alan Gordon. He was skilled in just about anything he tried from building dental appliances to weaving Nantucket baskets, concocting fabulous holiday feasts or compiling genealogical research. And while I’m sure he lost his temper a time or two – after all, who doesn’t – I never saw it happen.
When I last saw him, he was hardly frail. He was a bear of a man. But he needed the aid of a wheelchair to navigate even moderate distances. His health was declining even then. A few months after Nancy Kate’s death, he lost his home to a fire in the middle of the night, just escaping unscathed. He was among the last people helped by the person I called “My anonymous friend” who offered financial support to those I wrote about in the newspaper who faced hardships from fire, illnesses or accidents. Alan vowed to rebuild his house. I’m unsure where that project stands.
To my cousins who have endured so much over the past two years, I send all the love I can muster. Alan was a force in their lives and they are heartbroken. He and Nancy Kate had four children – twins Adam and Kerry along with Dawn and Sean. There are 10 grandchildren who won’t have the benefit of Alan’s global view of the world as they move forward. This is a tremendous loss.
In many ways, Alan was ahead of his time. Today people aspire to be global citizens, it’s a cornerstone of the education experience at Elon University where I now work. He was one before it was fashionable.
The celebration of his life will be held 4 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Anglican Church located at 5328 Hemby Road, Matthews NC with reception to follow.