There's an empty music stand in Woodside right now, a conductor's baton waiting to be used.
The town's own "Music Man," Richard Gordon, the music director and orchestra conductor for the Woodside Community Theatre, director of the Woodside Village Band, orchestra conductor for countless Woodside Elementary School eighth-grade operettas, and saxophone player, died on Monday, Sept. 12, after losing a four-month fight against brain cancer.
Or, as one of the actors who worked for Mr. Gordon in the community theater, Jon Mirsalis, posted on Facebook: "There's a huge hole in the universe where he used to stand baton in hand."
Mr. Gordon would have celebrated his 68th birthday on Sept. 30, undoubtedly with music.
Born in San Francisco, Mr. Gordon grew up in the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., and Pasadena, where he served as a drum major in the Rose Parade. He began working to support himself and his family after his father died when he was 11.
He met his wife, Deborah Gordon (who is the mayor of Woodside), when they were office mates at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, both engineers designing medical devices. He was working on the machine that became the MRI and she on an ultrasound machine.
The Gordons moved to Woodside in 1980 and raised their daughters, Carrie and Ashley, there. Two of their four granddaughters now attend Woodside Elementary School.
Deborah Gordon soon got involved in Woodside Elementary School, and in 1987 helped to organize a community theater production of "Mame" to raise money for the school. "There's only one thing they don't have," she said she told Richard. "It's a conductor for the orchestra, so I volunteered you."
It turned out he not only had to conduct, but to recruit the musicians. The orchestra members enjoyed working together so much that they started the Woodside Village Band the next year, after putting on "The Music Man."
Although Mr. Gordon worked as a design engineer, "his life revolved around music," Deborah Gordon said.
Mark Bowles, a Woodside Community Theatre producer, said Mr. Gordon was "responsible for everything musical about the shows."
Without Mr. Gordon, the community theater company would never have been successfully restarted in 2003, Mr. Bowles said. "Since then, every year, the music side of the production has been a solid, high-quality, exciting element we harried producers could always count on," he said.
"I’ve never met a music director who was so upbeat, positive and calm as Richard Gordon," Mr. Bowles said. "He got the most from his singers and players simply by assuming that they can do it, encouraging them to the effort, teaching technique when needed, and rewarding success. He was perfect for our volunteer, amateur company. No drama, no tantrums, just spectacular music."
Mr. Gordon was also known for being the "composer's advocate in our shows," Mr. Bowles said.
Kerie Darner-Moss, who played the lead role in several community theater productions with Mr. Gordon, agreed. "He was a stickler for learning music as it was written," she said. "You had to show him you had learned what was written first, then you could put your interpretation on it ... maybe."
Emily Ross, 17, started doing shows with the Woodside Community Theatre when she was in second grade. She played the cello in the orchestra with Mr. Gordon on "The Producers," when, she said, he became a mentor to her, as he was for many others. "He was so nice, and I felt like he really did believe in me the entire time I was working with him," she said. "That's something I really value, because positive feedback makes you want to keep going."
She said that after the show ended, Mr. Gordon helped her to get a position in the orchestra for "Les Miserables" with the Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory.
"He understood what kind of work it takes to produce art," she said. "He was a stickler for precision and emotion."
Darlene Batchelder, another actor and singer championed by Mr. Gordon, said he "was demanding in service of creating great quality work at Woodside Community Theatre. He was also kind, patient and very funny to work with. I always admired his ability to lead an orchestra and an ensemble; he could hear instantly when one person or instrument was off, even just slightly."
She said that no matter how many times Mr. Gordon saw the show at rehearsal or from the orchestra pit, he always laughed at parts he enjoyed. "It was rewarding as a performer to hear him laugh down in the pit," she said.
Liz Matchett, another Woodside Community Theatre producer, said Mr. Gordon "had a continuous faith that all would turn out well, no matter the challenges."
"He was learned, but never pedantic, intelligent, but never arrogant, humorous, but never hurtful. I looked at him all these years as a steadfast rock in my theater life," she said.
Kristin Pfeifer, choral director and music teacher at Sacred Heart Prep and music director for the current Woodside Community Theatre production of "Ragtime," said the man she thinks of as her mentor will be greatly missed. His passing "is a great loss to the music community, not just in Woodside. He affected so many people," she said.
Ms. Pfeifer said she wonders: "Who do I go to with questions?" He left her with the answer, she said. "He was a good teacher and he gave me the skills ... to have the courage to answer my own questions," she said.
"I am so grateful every day that I am in front of the musicians for everything he taught me how to do," she said.
"He was absolutely meticulous in his attention to detail," she said, but also kind and generous. "Did I ever hear him raise his voice? I don't think so. He didn't need to."
Deborah Gordon said she has received condolences from around the world. "He is not just loved here," she said. He visited Russia, China, Thailand, Korea and many other places with her. He helped with projects such as setting up wireless internet connections in two western Mongolian towns, so that using iPads donated by the town of Woodside, residents there could go online.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at Skylawn Memorial Park, 100 Lifemark Road in San Mateo. A reception will follow at Skylawn.
At tinyurl.com/zuvfuhu memorial donations may be made to support the Woodside Village Band and the Woodside Community Theatre through the Woodside Community Foundation.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Gordon is survived by daughter Ashley Dombkowski and husband Brian, and their daughters Brooke and Bryn, of Woodside; daughter Carolyn Littlefield and her husband Paul and their daughters Katie and Sarah, of Menlo Park; brothers John Gordon of Sunnyvale and James Gordon of Forresthill; sisters Susan Gordon of Wailuku, Martha Gordon of San Jose and Sally Lunetta of Colfax; and mother-in-law Sally Cody of Woodside. He was predeceased by sister Paula Gordon of Auburn.