Obituary: Dr. Whitney H. Gordon

I regret that I never did get to meet Dr. Gordon. I do hope he knew how helpful he was to me in his final years. Reprinted from the official Department Facebook page:

It is with great sadness that we at the Ball State University Department of Sociology announce the passing of Dr. Whitney H. Gordon. Dr. Gordon was a beloved and highly-regarded member of our faculty, with over three decades of outstanding service to our department, community, and discipline. We ask you to please keep his family in your thoughts. His obituary is below.

Whitney Gordon was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 27th, 1931, to loving parents Maurice and Golda Gordon. His family moved soon thereafter to the territory of Hawaii, where he spent his childhood, excepting a temporary evacuation to the mainland immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which he witnessed in person. After earning a diploma from Punahou School (Honolulu), he returned to the mainland and completed his BS in psychology at Pomona College (Claremont, California) in 1954, and a master’s degree in that same discipline at Purdue University in 1956. Participation in an immersive field study in the villages of Miloli’i and Kawahai, Hawai’i, in the summer of 1955 inspired a disciplinary shift to sociology, in which he earned a PhD from Purdue University in 1962. While at Purdue, he met Hildegard (Hilda) Lehman (née Eisack) and her son, Laurence. Hilda, who had fled Germany in 1938, was earning a PhD in psychology. Whit and Hilda married on April 6th, 1957.

In 1958, while completing his studies at Purdue, he was hired as an instructor at Ball State Teacher’s College (Muncie, Indiana) in the Department of Social Science, where he quickly developed a reputation as a stimulating and entertaining teacher with encyclopedic interests, voracious reading habits, and an eagerness for intellectual discourse on nearly any subject both in and out of the classroom. His qualitative scholarship, with specializations in urban sociology, sociology of architecture, and Jewish studies, took him to Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, West Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, and England. He was especially concerned with transnational comparative approaches to urban renewal after World War II, urbanization in poor nations, and low-income housing solutions. He served the university and broader community in numerous ways, such as chair of the Department of Sociology, terms on countless university committees (including as chair of the United Way drive), collaborative efforts with the College of Architecture and Planning, and invited speeches in the local community and beyond. On the basis of such activities, he was promoted in rapid succession to Assistant Professor (1960), Associate Professor (1965), and Professor (1969). Although he retired with emeritus status in 1991 after 33 years, the Department of Sociology was honored to have him teach as an adjunct until 2002. During the span of his career, he witnessed and facilitated the ascension of the institution from a college to a university and the blossoming of the Department of Social Science into departments representing multiple disciplines.

As an educator, he will be remembered for his engaging teaching and mentoring; Ball State University named him Outstanding Teacher of the Year (1982-83), and Whitinger Scholars honored him as Outstanding Professor of the Year (1982-83). Alumni and friends created a named award in honor of him and of Hilda, which is granted in alternating years to a student in sociology or in psychology (Hilda’s department) for involvement in community service work and interest in working with disadvantaged populations.

Over fifty loving years of marriage came to an end with Hilda’s death in 2007. Whit then moved to Friendship Village in Tempe, Arizona. In keeping with his character, he continued to make the most of the opportunities afforded at each stage of his life, enjoying music, museums, reading, and the company of friends, both old and new.

He was well-known for his deep appreciation of classical music, history, and all things mechanical; friends fondly recall lively conversations of these and other topics at fine dinner parties that he and Hilda hosted. Whit’s fascination with and knowledge of automobiles was legendary in Muncie; he often labored on his rare 1934 Aston-Martin Mark II (in which he courted Hilda, who sometimes had to hold a flashlight in lieu of working headlights). In later years, his boyish wonder for machinery extended increasingly to computers and iPhones, which he used extensively to stay connected with his friends and family.

He passed away peacefully at Friendship Village due to complications from COVID-19 on November 27th, 2020. He leaves to cherish his memory his stepson Laurence (Larry) Lehman (wife Olga Meza-Lehman), grandson Jeremy (partner Kiran James, with son Shayanne), his older brother Lawrence (aka Lawrie), his nephews Bruce, Burt, Fred, Peter and niece Jean, sister-in-law Susan Simpson, and many friends and colleagues around the globe, and thousands of students whom he inspired at Ball State University over the course of his long, adventurous, and rich life.

Whit was vigorous yet agreeable, generous, superbly intelligent and perceptive, and displayed candor without cruelty. He was a man of integrity in both words and actions, a cultivator of conversation, and a true gentleman to everyone. His wit and humor were unparalleled. He maintained the flair of his own identity and served as a knight for love, humanity, and social justice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *