By Constantine Angelos
(From the November 1, 1990, Seattle Times.)
In the early 1950s, when 1 million Korean War veterans returned home through Seattle's port of embarkation on Pier 36, you could count on one regular at dockside: Seattle's unofficial greeter, John Francis (Jack) Gordon.
Through sun and chill and drizzle, Gordon would shout, ``Hey! Hey!'' into the microphone as he introduced the Barclay can candancers, band numbers and dignitaries, sometimes sharing the welcoming honors with such visiting ``greeters'' as Bob Hope, Edward G. Robinson and the Andrews Sisters.
After a career as a newsman, publicist, state official, civic booster and chronic volunteer, Gordon, 68, will retire in April after nearly a quarter century as the first executive director and vice president of the Washington State Restaurant Association.
``He's a great innovator . . . a great organizer,'' said Jerry Burtenshaw, a former president of the restaurant association. ``I've never known a person who knows more people in the country, state and city than Jack does. He's a great communicator.''
Between 1951 and 1953, Gordon was chairman of the city's welcoming committee for Korean War veterans. ``It was purely a labor of love,'' Gordon said.
The returning soldiers were paraded in trucks or buses down ``Welcome Lane'' (Second Avenue) where women bank employees would hand them flowers.
In 1969, Gordon helped organize a similar welcome for the first contingent of returning troops from Vietnam. Nearly 800 soldiers marched down rain-swept Fourth Avenue to the Seattle Public Library.
``Everything went great until protesters showed up, and there were more protesters than soldiers,'' Gordon recalled. ``They got into a shouting match. I knew if we said one wrong thing, we'd have a riot, so we played it straight and very formal.'' There was no riot.
Earlier this year, Sen. Slade Gorton memorialized Gordon in the Congressional Record. The senator described Gordon as a ``one-man public-relations emissary for Washington state.''
The tribute noted that Gordon first helped organize a successful welcome-to-Washington state program for President Harry S Truman more than 40 years ago.
``. . . He went on to organize ceremonies (for) . . . Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, and Carter; Vice Presidents Nixon, Mondale and Humphrey; Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip; Crown Prince Akihito; the king and queen of Sweden; the presidents of the Republic of Iceland and West Germany; Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adlai Stevenson; and astronauts of several different missions,'' the memorial said.
Seemingly endless energy was a Gordon hallmark - all the way back to the days when he sold newspapers on the streets of San Francisco as a youngster.
A native of Portland, Gordon came to Seattle just before the stock market's crash in 1929. His father had made and lost a fortune in the timber industry.
Young Jack attended St. James Cathedral School and O'Dea High School, where he rode the bench on the basketball team after spraining a thumb in his first game. The next year he became editor of the school paper, The Chimes.
''One of my reporters was Fred Dore (now justice of the state Supreme Court),'' Gordon said.
A team booster from the start, Gordon ran O'Dea box scores to the city's daily newspapers.
While still in high school, he was hired as a ``stringer'' for The Seattle Star and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, covering high-school sports. Later he reported box scores for the Seattle Indians baseball team when it played at the old Civic Field and then at the new Sick's Stadium in Rainier Valley when the Indians became the Rainiers.
``To save money, I'd walk out to the stadium,'' Gordon recalled. ``In those days a dime was a dime.''
Gordon thought he was on his way to becoming a banker when The Seattle Times hired him for $17.50 a week. ``I ran copy, worked in sports - they let me make up the Bulldog (Friday night) sports edition (of the Sunday paper),'' Gordon said.
When the United States entered World War II, Gordon enlisted in the Navy. He was assigned to edit newspapers at naval air stations around the country and in the Pacific.
Gordon returned from the service in 1946 to a one-year stint as editor of The Catholic Northwest Progress. Then he was hired as director of public relations for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the state.
But he also took the job of public-affairs director and later sports promotion at Seattle College, now Seattle University, when the school recruited Johnny and Eddie O'Brien, the whiz-kid basketball twins out of New Jersey.
Gordon organized an army of students and alumni who flooded sports writers eligible to vote on All America polls with box scores and clippings of the O'Briens' exploits on the court. The effort was rewarded when Johnny was named to the All America team in 1953.
In 1950 Gordon became public-affairs director of the fledgling Greater Seattle Inc., which spawned Seafair. That job positioned the 6-foot, 200-pound Irishman as ``a voice to be reckoned with,'' wrote former Times columnist Chet Skreen more than a decade ago.
A lifelong Republican, Gordon was tapped by Democratic Gov. Albert Rosellini in 1963 as the state's employment security commissioner. He got the idea for a program - later adapted by the federal government as the Job Corps - in which labor and business were asked to create new full- or part-time jobs during a recession. He also proposed a new parks employment program for youth.
In 1965 Gordon was named public-affairs director for the Seattle Center. The next year he was tapped as chief executive of the restaurant association.
In the past two decades, the food industry in this state has grown to be on a par with San Francisco, New York, Chicago and New Orleans, Gordon believes.
``There's hardly a week goes by I don't get a call from some entrepreneur who wants to come here and start a chain or a restaurant,'' Gordon said.
Gordon has served as a trustee or officer of more than 20 civic organizations, including 10 years on the Seattle Human Rights Commission and four years on the city's Board of Theater supervisors, which used to censor motion pictures.
A devout Catholic and member of Seattle's Assumption Parish, Gordon is a lay lector and eucharistic minister.
Gordon attended Seattle U and the University of Washington, but never completed a degree - one of his regrets. Still, in 1969, SU named him its Alumnus of the Year for Distinguished Service.
Gordon's proudest achievement?
``I think the proudest thing was raising a family, which sounds kind of corny,'' he said. Because of outside demands, he couldn't spend as much time as he wanted with his family, he said. He and his wife of 42 years, Roberta, have two sons, two daughters and six grandchildren.
Today the man who feted rulers, soldiers and astronauts said he gets ``a big charge out of taking my grandchildren to the park.''
You are at JackGordon.org,
a salute to John F "Jack" Gordon, Mr. Seattle
Copyright © 2010, 2011 John R. Gordon