“Every time I go back and look up at the rafters and see my name or people that are here or who have passed, it conjures up memories of happy experiences.” In 1962, Jimmy Gordon came to camp at the age of 8 ½. He snuck in under age as he had an impressive camp lineage. His cousins Bobby, Peter, and David were already at camp with his brother Michael. In fact, Jimmy’s father Davey went to camp in the old days as well.
Davey Gordon grew up in the Old West End of Boston. He was friendly with Max Feld, Joe Kaplan, and George Kane. The family moved to Newton, but before young Jimmy could attend camp, he had to pass the camper interview on Blossom Street in the old West End. When Jimmy arrived, something odd happened. By total coincidence one of his best friends, Frank Steinberg, was also there for his interview. Frank went to Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior High, and High School with Jimmy, so of course they both started their West End careers together as well.
Jimmy Gordon spent a total of 11 years at West End, seven as a camper and four on the staff. He was in a famous 5A group with counselors Malcolm Alter and Senior Counselor Bill Margolin. He remembers getting off the bus and walking to the Council Ring. “It was daunting and overwhelming seeing all the people, with their paper bags and trunks.” He had been to summer camp before, but this was different. Some of his bunkmates were Jan Singer, Peter Nason, and Cary Richards.
In terms of favorite activities, Jimmy “liked them all.” In particular, he loved Boxing Night (hasn’t existed in 40+ years), sports leagues, Scavenger Hunt, Movie Night in the Rec Hall, and Capture the Flag. “It was a phenomenal experience. I loved the competition and sports. It taught me life skills like learning to take initiative and responsibility.” Jimmy remembers fondly the trips to Ogunquit and Mount Washington. But his favorite activity was being part of the Watermelon Softball League. The Watermelon League is still thriving, as we have added a Watermelon Commissioner, and the perk of playing with your relatives remains intact. “Half of my team were my relatives,” Jimmy said proudly.
One of Jimmy’s favorite stories is the time he earned the nickname “Cool Hand Luke.” After Watermelon League one evening, Jimmy challenged the 6′ 7″ monster, Bobby Aisner, to a game of tetherball. Bobby was a basketball star for Colby College. The game went on and on, with Jimmy refusing to go down without a fight. The counselors started to watch and were in awe of his efforts vs. an unbeatable opponent. In what Jimmy estimates was about a 30 minute match, he finally succumbed to Goliath. However, the event reminded the counselors of the famous scene in “Cool Hand Luke” where Paul Newman is in prison and fights the leader of the prison, a far bigger man. While Luke loses badly, he gains the respect of his peers with his determination and tenacity. The nickname Luke has stuck for Jimmy.
Like most West Enders, Jimmy loved Color War the most. He remembers having a great time on the White Spartans. “Great team, great coaches.” He loved everything about Color War: the songs, the plays, even how they couldn’t talk in the Mess Hall. “We came together, had principles, a theme that we embraced. It completely immersed you. You wanted to win.” Jimmy was on other teams such as the Blue Pirates (the first team to have a theme), the White Wizards, and the Blue Minutemen during his Gottlieb year.
Jimmy got to coach a couple of times. First on the winning Blue Hombres (1969) with his cousin Peter Gordon as the head coach, and Peter Kaplan as the head captain. “We were like Mexican Banditos from a Clint Eastwood movie.” Two years later he coached again on the Blue Comanches (1971). “I wrote songs, directed the play too.” His most fond memory was his entrance at the Waterfront. Jimmy stood on top of the 1A roof, dressed like a native Comanche, with war paint, and fired a flaming arrow into the lake. “It was like a movie scene.” When I told him we would not allow such a theme today, Jimmy responded “There was no political correctness back then.”
Color War “gave everyone a chance to understand what teamwork was all about, competitiveness. During the camp season, its one big family. But for Color War it’s bonding with teammates. You had to deliver for the team, on the field, stage, you had to come through.”
Jimmy has such fondness for Bill Margolin, since Bill was his original Senior Counselor. “He tries to instill values, integrity, to do the right thing for all the kids at camp. Always encouraged individual campers to do more than they thought. He brought out the best.” Jimmy remembers the Program Directors from his era, including Lou Fuccillo and Norm Ullum. But of course, he remembers his cousin Bobby Gordon running the program. “He was phenomenal, he kept everyone in line, tremendous guy.”
Jimmy Gordon is a quote machine when it comes to camp. When I asked him what keeps him coming back after all these years, he said “a sense of place and friends.” When asked for his favorite story, Jimmy said “too many to tell, incredible memories. One of the best experiences of my life. I realize how many ways camp helped me in life.” When I asked him what it means to be “one of the boys,” Jimmy said sternly, “Always knowing they had your back and I have theirs. People want the best for you.”
These days, Jimmy lives in Beacon Hill, ironically a short walk from the old West End where his father grew up. For 47 years, Jimmy has owned an extremely successful renewable energy company, “Energy Management Inc.” According to their website, “EMI is a privately held energy company with a more than 40-year track record of developing, financing, constructing and operating clean energy projects.” As the Centennial Book pointed out, “Jimmy Gordon became well known for his proposal to build the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, but his earnest concern for the environment was evident as far back as August 4, 1970, when as a teenager, his Open Letter to the West End House Campers appeared in the Echo, the camp newspaper.” Here is that letter.
Jimmy is still working today and loves it. His son Zac works for the company too. Zac followed in Jimmy’s footsteps and spent many years at camp and was a Color War coach for the White Fraternity (2004) and the Blue Shield (2005). Jimmy has 2 daughters: Grace, who attends the University of Southern California, and Mia, who is in High School at Beaver Country Day.
“I view my association with West End, for 11 years, as one of the most influential and important things I did in my life.” Jimmy Gordon truly felt that all aspects of camp were great experiences. He loved being a counselor as well. “I enjoyed mentoring kids.” Thank you Jimmy Gordon for Remembering with Ryan. Jimmy was ahead of his time and likely a source of inspiration for former Camp Director (and contemporary) Steve Lepler as he installed his famous “Reverse Littering” policy (picking up trash voluntarily), that we emphasize each day of the summer.
Great stuff! Love this, Ryan, and love Jimmy Gordon!
I was a couple of years older than Jimmy, whom I remember well. I recall reading about the Cape Cod Wind project and learning about his involvement in alt. energy projects for the first time. Thanks so much for your efforts. Two memories of Jimmy: he was a bundle of energy the likes of which I’d never seen, and he had a voice so piercing he could be heard above any din in the dining hall.