Home Scholarly articles Environmental health ‘pioneer’ has had a distinguished career

Environmental health ‘pioneer’ has had a distinguished career

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Larry J. Gordon (Courtesy of the Gordon family)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Larry J. Gordon has been described by his family and friends as a “pioneer” and a “legend” in the field of environmental health.

Gordon drafted the legislation creating the state Environmental Improvement Agency, now called the New Mexico Department of the Environment. He also helped establish the state science laboratory system and the Albuquerque Department of Environmental Health, where he served as director twice.

Gordon, who died April 29 in Albuquerque at age 95, served in the administrations of four New Mexico governors, as well as several Albuquerque mayors.

Colleagues said he was an “inspirational leader” and mentor, as well as being an academic who has written more than 240 academic papers published in scientific and peer-reviewed journals.

His son, Gary Gordon of Santa Fe, called his father a “caring and kind family man” and an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed fishing, quail hunting and hiking.

Gordon served as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Environment under former Governor Garrey Carruthers.

“He was probably the least political person I’ve appointed to the cabinet,” Carruthers said. “He was chosen for his expertise. He was very professional and contributed a lot. I was a great admirer of him.

Mesa del Sol CEO David Campbell was an aide to former Albuquerque Mayor Harry Kinney when he met Gordon, who led the city’s environmental health efforts.

“He was a caring, caring guy, and professionally I considered him the pioneer of the New Mexico conservation movement,” Campbell said. “He was really one of the first to recognize the important role of government in protecting the environment, and under his leadership we started programs like vehicle emissions monitoring. He was very involved in keeping the air and water clean, but did so in a way that put the government at the center of implementing those protections.

For a time, Gordon served as a captain in the US Public Health Service, “hunting radiation in the desert,” his son Gary said.

“He would go to Nevada when they were still doing surface testing at the time, and he would lead teams to determine which direction the radiation was blowing and, if necessary, evacuate communities or ranches. Because of that experience, he was sympathetic and lent his time and energy to the Tularosa Basin Downwinders,” who he says were similarly affected by the explosions at the Trinity site.

Gordon retired as an adjunct professor of public administration and political science at the University of New Mexico, where he also served as visiting professor of public administration and senior fellow at the Institute for Public Policy.

A visionary, Gordon spoke about climate change, global warming and the melting polar ice caps long before it became a common topic of debate, his son said.

“My dad was learning and talking about it and later joked that all he got in response was crickets. He was writing articles and giving speeches, and people – even those around him – just didn’t understand no. I know it was frustrating for him,” he said.

Deborah McFarlane, a political science professor at UNM, said she had a background in public health and was familiar with Gordon’s work long before she met him.

“I had gone to graduate school at the University of Michigan and read his stuff. In public health, he was very well known all over the country,” she said. “I still teach some of his papers in my classes.”

McFarlane said she taught Gordon how to use computers. “He must have been in his sixties at the time and said he was going to die soon, so he didn’t need to know any more. He said, ‘I had five secretaries,’ and I said “Well, you don’t have any here, and the ones we have aren’t very good.” So he ended up with three computers.

Fresh out of college, Russell Roades started working for Gordon at the city’s environmental health department. Gordon, he said, “was instrumental in helping me get into graduate school at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.”

Gordon convinced Roades to return to the department after completing graduate school. “It was a bit of his management style. He would do whatever he could to help people advance professionally, hoping he would bring them back to run his programs,” Roades said. “He focused on goal achievement and professional accountability while providing support and backing to his team. He was truly an inspirational leader and created a vibrant (work) culture. »

Farmington’s Bruce Etchison never met Gordon, but the two became friends through correspondence. Etchison had worked for the United States Public Health Service for 30 years and knew Gordon by name and reputation.

“He was kind of a father of environmental health,” he said.

Etchison volunteered to help Gordon edit his memoir, “Environmental Health and Protection Adventures”, which was published in 2020. The book includes stories detailing how Gordon dealt with problems with Agent Orange, DDT , uranium mines, paper mills, measurements of fallout from atomic weapons. and tobacco reduction.

“He also talks about growing up with his pioneer parents, who were teachers and administrators in those little communities east of Gallup that don’t even exist anymore, and how they dug their own wells and built their own classrooms and homes,” Etchison mentioned.

Gordon was born near Tipton, Oklahoma, and was 2 years old when the family moved to New Mexico. In his youth, he worked as a ranch hand and later as a course manager for the Bureau of Land Management.

With three semesters of college behind him, he joined the United States Navy during World War II and served as a hospital corpsman at Bethesda Naval Hospital. After being released, he attended UNM and earned a bachelor’s degree and later a master’s degree in biology. In 2007, he received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from UNM.

It was during his college years that he met Nedra Callendar. They married in 1950 and had three children. The couple had been married for 67 years when she died in 2017.

Gordon served as president of the American Public Health Association and is the recipient of APHA’s highest honor, the Sedgwick Award for contributions to public health. In addition, he received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Governor of New Mexico, the Zimmerman Award from UNM, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Michigan, and was made an honorary member of the Royal Society for the Promotion of United Kingdom Health.

Larry Gordon is survived by his sons, Gary Gordon and his wife, Terri Giron, of Santa Fe; Kent Gordon and his wife, Eli, of Santa Clara, Calif.; daughter Debbie Dunlap of Albuquerque; four granddaughters, one grandson, one great-granddaughter, one great-grandson and one great-great-grandson.

His remains were cremated and will be interred with those of Nedra in a single grave. A public service will not take place.