Gordon was born on October 11, 1937, to William E. and Helen Sohl, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the second of three sons, and spent his childhood in Birchwood, on the shores of White Bear Lake. Gordon was not just a curious child, but an avid learner and “doer.” He delivered papers with the family dachshund, Rinky, jumping from footstep to footstep in the snow behind him. He earned numerous badges in the Scouts and his Ham Radio Operator’s license by the time he was 14. He enjoyed waterskiing, trying to perfect an Iron Cross on the gymnastics rings, and an occasional prank at the expense of one brother or another.
Gordon attended the University of Minnesota, studying Electrical Engineering - something he knew he wanted to do since he was nine years old - a choice that would pay personal and professional dividends. While at the U, Gordon joined Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, eventually becoming the chapter president. Besides representing his chapter, he enjoyed more elaborate pranks and jokes, not the least of which included having a hearse as the chapter’s vehicle (complete with slightly off-center concentric circles on the wheels) and an alligator as their mascot, who eventually outgrew the tub and was gifted to the Minneapolis Zoo. Gordon also joined the Army ROTC, laying plans for service upon graduation.
Gordon’s studies landed him in the EE lab as a research assistant studying vacuum tube construction; this close work with professors put him on a collision course with destiny, as he met his future wife, Vera, who worked as a secretary in the research department. Not long after they met, Gordon took Vera back to White Bear to meet his parents on their first date. After dating for more than two years, and just a few months after graduation, on September 17th, 1960, they married at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.
Gordon’s military service took the couple to major bases in Georgia and Massachusetts, and then to little Fort Huachuca, Arizona (or “Hoochicooch” as he liked to call it). First Lieutenant Sohl’s post in the Security Agency Operation Center meant he couldn’t really tell anyone what he did, but he did travel with briefcases chained to his wrists on occasion. By 1963, Gordon moved onto a civilian career at Xerox’s Electro Optical Systems (EOS) in Pasadena, California. At EOS, Gordon worked to develop ion propulsion engines, resulting in his first four patents, as well as receiving the Golovine Award from the British Interplanetary Society, which promotes the exploration and use of space for the benefit of humanity. When he wasn’t busy being a rocket scientist, Gordon worked on several government contracts for EOS, taking him on dozens of trips to Air Force Bases in California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Ohio; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech, the National Atomic Energy Commission, NASA and the Pentagon. In later years, Vera would observe Gordon talking shop with other veterans about some of these programs and get choked up seeing them gratefully shake his hand for the protection those systems provided.
In 1968, Gordon and Vera welcomed their only child, Kathryn Anne. A loving father, Gordon brought Kathy to the office throughout his career, instilling a love for learning. In 1973, Gordon was transferred with Xerox to Dallas, and he and Vera settled on a home in Richardson, mostly because the schools were said to be the best around. Their neighborhood turned out to be a special place, with a tight group of families that celebrated national holidays with huge picnics and offered the children an amazing extended family for life. The men got up early on Saturdays to get yardwork out of the way, then spent the weekends playing horseshoes, finding countless ways to barbecue, and coming up with Do It Yourself projects that Gordon invariably got involved in. The man had a tool for everything.
As parents, Gordon and Vera stressed the importance of the Arts, family ties and educational travel. They took Kathy to the theater and concerts from an early age, inspiring her to study music and later introducing them to The Dallas Winds. Summers saw extended trips back to Minnesota, a Bicentennial trip along the East Coast, throughout the Southwest, and to Hawaii, with Thanksgivings being spent with Gordon’s family in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They also began a serious tradition of celebrating Halloween, whether with hilarious costume parties or with the neighborhood children, decorating the house and coming up with more and more elaborate costumes to scare the little buggers.
As part of Xerox’s Office Products Division in Dallas, Gordon was one of the main engineers on the MemoryWriter project, a precursor to the Personal Computer. He approached the task by spending time with the people who would use their product: secretaries. He observed their daily routines, using his notes to determine the features that would make it more than just another typewriter. Over the course of the project, Gordon attended the intense Harvard Program for Management Development, was awarded another six patents, made lifelong friends, and made multiple trips to Switzerland, inspiring future travel plans.Gordon moved on to work with microprocessors at Mostek/United Technologies; at Network Access Corporation, where he was awarded another patent for enabling 1ESS switches to utilize SS7 signaling; being a founding member of the Helmsmen Group, a consulting firm of four former Xeroxers that focused on process management; and finally at Abbott Laboratories, where he worked on the Prism System, which took blood bank sample screening to a new level. With the growing threat of transfusion-based contraction of viruses like Hepatitis and HIV, Prism set a higher standard of screening to reject contaminated samples and protect the population from unintended and tragic consequences. Through Prism, he learned about the nature of the diseases that could be present to deliver a system with reliable results. Indeed, during its first installation, the system rejected dozens of samples that had been passed by predecessor equipment, giving the team tremendous satisfaction. Prism delivered Gordon’s final patent and inspired him to start donating blood regularly to give back.
Finally, Gordon gave back to his chosen profession by taking on an adjunct professor role at Southern Methodist University, teaching the Senior Projects course for Electrical Engineering students. While his formal training was in Electrical Engineering, he also had experience in defense, physics, business, health and telecom, giving him a unique perspective and ability to guide his students in selecting and developing their projects. He always included a lecture on Ethics, and never tired of providing equipment from his legendary home shop. And, thanks to Vera’s employment at SMU, the two again made lasting friendships and created a new fall ritual: tailgating on the Boulevard.
Gordon retired in 2007 to enjoy grandparenting and do some serious travelling. He and Vera attended countless soccer, football, basketball, baseball and softball games, as well as tolerating the sweltering Texas heat at summer swim meets. They enjoyed getting to keep the grandkids, and they enjoyed giving them back. They discovered a wonderful collectors’ club of Department 56 Villages, which brought them more close friendships and hours of fun putting holiday displays together. And they never tired of exploring together – taking extended road trips to our country’s national parks as well as many in Canada, along with river and ocean cruises through Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands; France; the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas; Alaska; Australia and New Zealand; and finally, to Vera’s family’s roots in Scandinavia. As always, they made fast friends on these trips, with whom they kept in touch and even visited on future trips.
There is no telling where else Gordon might have gone, but his love for his wife and family were steadfast. There is a new harmonica player in Heaven, and we look forward to hearing him again someday.
Published on February 17, 2019
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