Woodside has lost its 'Music Man,' Richard Gordon

Services are on Oct. 1

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 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.

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6 people like this
Posted by Paul Goeld
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Sep 19, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I am so sorry to hear this news.

My sincere and heartfelt condolences to Deborah, Ashley and the extended Gordon family.

Richard was a prince and many will miss him.

2 people like this
Posted by Rebekah Witter
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Sep 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Love and condolences to Deborah and family,

2 people like this
Posted by Joanie Crombie
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 19, 2016 at 4:10 pm

Condolences to Mr. Gordon's family from everyone at West Coast Songwriters

2 people like this
Posted by John C. Gordon
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Sep 19, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Thank you for this very nice article. I think I can speak for Richard's siblings in saying this was very enlightening to know more about how he is (still) respected and revered in his community.
I'd like to mention the rest of "Rick"'s sisters and brothers; Susan Gordon of Wailuku, Paula Gordon (of Auburn, deceased), Martha Gordon of San Jose, Sally Lunetta of Colfax, James Gordon of Forresthill, and myself. Add to them, all the spouses, cousins, nieces, nephews, and all of their children and grandchildren, Rick's family reach is far and wide, and we will all miss him.
Once again, thank you for this glimpse into his life in Woodside that we can keep forever.
Regards, John C. Gordon

1 person likes this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Thank you John, I didn't have the siblings' names. I have added them to the story. I worked with Richard on community theater for 10 years and admired him greatly.

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Hellman
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2016 at 11:01 pm

I was privileged to know Richard Gordon, Woodside's "Music Man" and beloved husband of my dear friend Deborah. His death is a loss for all of us who knew him, but most of all my heart goes out to Deborah. Visiting them two weeks earlier, the deep love shared shone through even though Richard was medicated and drifted in and out of consciousness. Because he loved reed instruments, I asked Deborah if he might like me to play one of my favorite albums, Renaissance music played on modern double reeds. As we listened to it, Deborah told me to look at Richard's index finger. He was conducting! While I have experienced tears over Richard's death, writing that just now made me smile, much as I believe a smile crossed Richard's face as he conducted that Renaissance music. Earth has lost a good man, but Heaven has gained a saxophone player to accompany all those harps.

Like this comment
Posted by Karen Offen
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2016 at 10:20 am

What a loss! Our deepest sympathy goes to Deborah and the entire Gordon family. We will miss Richard's kindly face and his contribution to things musical in Woodside. May he rest in peace..... and ma the survivors be consoled by the remembrance of a good and worthy life.

Like this comment
Posted by Julianna
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Nov 15, 2016 at 2:55 pm

This man was amazing and was my best friend, Brooke Dombkowski's, granddaughter. Brooke and her family and this wonderful man are amazing influnces and amazing people! Love u "pops"!

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