Al Gordon, 89, took his final curtain call May 30

Article Image Alt Text

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts.”

(William Shakespeare)

Albert C. “Al” Gordon, 89, took his final curtain call on May 30, 2023.

He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Oct. 12, 1933, and was the son of the late Walter Albert Gordon and Mary Polk Gordon. In addition to his parents, Al was preceded in death by his brother, Sidney Hamilton Gordon.

Early on, Al found his passion to be theatre — specifically educational theatre. After attending Duke University for one year, he realized that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was where he needed to be. He transferred to Chapel Hill, joined the Carolina Playmakers, and never looked back. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Chapel Hill and it was there he met his wife, Rose, who shared that same passion. He went on to earn a Ph.D. at Tulane University.

Al taught at Armstrong College (now Armstrong University) in Savannah, Georgia; The University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio; and in 1974 accepted the position of chairman of fine arts at Washington and Lee University. Seduced by the small town charm of Lexington and the uniqueness of the small liberal arts university, he looked no further — he was where he wanted to be and where he wanted to raise his family.

At that time the main stage was the Troubadour Theatre, a small, ill-equipped 19th century building on Main Street. Despite this, once the lights went down, a lot of magic was created on stage by him and his colleagues. Sixteen years later the Lenfest Center was built and he had a strong hand in helping make it the magnificent theatre it is today.  His proudest professional moment was in 1990 when President Wilson handed him the keys to the Center and he became chairman of the Theatre Department.

During his tenure at Washington and Lee he directed well over 50 plays and taught courses primarily in Theatre History and Directing. His teaching method was a simple but effective one — during a theatre student’s four-year experience he strove to give them an understanding of the different styles of theatre and a working knowledge of the production of plays ranging from classical to contemporary. He could be a hard taskmaster but often the artistic product was of excellent quality.

He was a talented actor and summers left him time to indulge himself by appearing in number of summer theatres across the country, including Mill Mountain Theatre, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, The Croswell, and the Westport Country Playhouse.

In 1978, four years after his arrival in Lexington, he formed the Henry Street Playhouse and Stock Company. Henry Street Playhouse continued to entertain local audiences for 11 years featuring local talent and offering a mixture of period and contemporary plays including musicals. Occasionally Al acted in the productions — most notable was his performance as Count Dracula in “Dracula.” There are grownups today who declare they were “traumatized” by his performance.  One night during the climax of the play, live bats came swooping down over the heads of a terrified audience — true story!

Al and Rose both retired from Washington and Lee in 2001 and went on to enjoy 22 years of retirement. Travel, gardening, and theatre going were high on their list of pleasures. He served as president of The English-Speaking Union, was a past member of That Club and the Southeastern Theatre Conference.

Throughout the years he enjoyed the companionship of his faithful Westies —Bonnie and then Maisie. To the neighborhood, he was often identified as “the man with the little white dog.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Stephen Gordon and his wife, Heidi; a daughter, Suzannah Vess and her husband, Bobby; a granddaughter, Brook Vess; and a grandson, Jason Vess.

In addition, he is survived by a sister-in-law, Gloria Gordon; two nieces, Julia Cook and Beth Gordon; two nephews, Eric Cook and his wife, Laurie; and Bruce Gordon and his wife, Sarah; and extended family and friends.

The family wishes to extend sincere thanks to members of the Kendal staff at Borden, especially the nurses Debbie, Anna and Tina, and the caregivers Melissa, Jessica, Mary and Danielle.

In addition, they wish to express their gratitude to the outstanding staff of Connections Plus Healthcare + Hospice.

Burial will be private. The family would like to invite friends to a celebration of life at the Gordon Home (632 Stonewall St.) on Saturday, June 10, from 2 to 5 p.m.

Your presence will make it a joyous occasion of renewing happy memories.

In lieu of flowers, please send any memorial contributions to Connections Plus Healthcare + Hospice or The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.