Mary Alice Gordon, 85, died on November 29th, 2019. She traveled from Lawrence, KS to Fort Collins, CO with her daughter that day, arriving in time to watch her grandson-in-law bake a pie for a Saturday Thanksgiving Feast. Mary experienced a stroke a few hours later, and passed peacefully that night, surrounded by her family.
Mary, known to her grandkids (both biological and not) as “Gamby,” was born to Leslie and Florence Demeritt on November 12, 1934, in Lawrence, KS. She lived in a farmhouse that didn’t have running water or electricity until she was 14 years old. Growing up, she was athletic and was a softball pitcher for the town of Clinton and eventually played basketball while at University of Kansas. In 1955, she married Charles Gordon, principal of then-known Central Junior High, gaining two young step-daughters, Kathy and Mary. She had her daughter, Lori, in 1957. She and Charles divorced in 1962, though she maintained close relationships with her step-daughters throughout her life. Aside from 4 years spent in California, she spent her entire life in Lawrence, KS.
Mary graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.S in Physical Education and taught at Central Junior High and Haskell University and later obtained an M.S. in Education from KU. She earned certification in Special Education for Visual Impairment from the University of Northern Colorado. She became a teacher for blind and visually impaired students of the Lawrence Public School District, working in multiple schools and teaching summer school for the blind from her own home. Being a student of Mary Gordon’s didn’t end with graduation, as she taught most of her students from pre-school through adulthood. Her kids learned how to be successful in every subject they took and every interest they had, while also absorbing extensive life skills along the way. She began coordinating with the BOLD program (Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) for blind and visually impaired individuals. For 20 consecutive years, she raised funds from various community groups to make these ski trips to Aspen by school bus a reality. They included students from both Kansas and Missouri school districts.
While working as a full-time teacher, she also became the President of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation for Blind and Visually Impaired, as well as President for the Lawrence Teacher’s Association. She was a member of the Clinton Lake Historical Society, Phi Delta Kappa, Delta Kappa Gamma, the Lawrence Education Association, Mortar Board Alumna, Daughters of American Revolution, K-NEA, and life member of NEA. In 1988, she received the Kansas Special Educator of the Year Award. In 1993, she earned the Kansas Master Teacher Award from Emporia State University, as well as the Outstanding Educators Award from the University of Kansas. In 2003, she was inducted into the Lawrence High School Hall of Honor (She’d be the first to tell you she was inducted in 2003 along with Danny Manning).
Following her retirement in 1999, Mary continued to dedicate her life to serve others. She became a director of the Lawrence Lions Club, an international organization dedicated to bettering the lives of blind and visually impaired individuals through community outreach. She worked as a volunteer for Lawrence Memorial Hospital and was previously on the board for the Visiting Nurses Association of Lawrence. In an unofficial capacity, she dedicated her efforts in fundraising and providing for the needs of her former students. Being a student of Mary Gordon meant being her student for life.
Mary was an adoptive mother and grandmother to many. She loved her Jayhawks, and proudly showed it with a wardrobe that was almost completely red and royal blue. She couldn’t go to a restaurant without seeing an old friend, and almost just as frequently, making a new one. She was often late, but it was usually because she was chatting with an old student on the phone or filling her bird feeder at the last minute. She planted her garden to be a perfect habitat for monarch butterflies. Although Mary spent her whole life in Lawrence, KS, she loved exploring new places and cultures, including China, Egypt, Turkey, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Greece, and even above the Arctic Circle. She loved her family, friends and the Lawrence community with all of her heart. She was always genuinely happy to see you and you felt loved when you were with her. She would’ve been glad to know that she went quickly, without a fuss, and with her loved ones holding her.
Mary was predeceased by her parents Leslie and Florence Demeritt, her brother Leslie “Laddie” Demeritt, and brother-in-law Robert “Bob” Parker. She is survived by her daughter Lori Tilson and son-in-law Wayne Tilson, step-daughter and son-in-law Mary and Dale Mitchell, step-daughter Kathy Gordon, grandchildren Joe Heacock, Megan Gleeson (husband Sam), Scott Mitchell (wife Lorena) and Kristen Hase (husband Chris), and sister Martha Parker. She also leaves 5 great-grandchildren (Juli, Ian, Ava, Alex, and Noah), and many nieces and nephews.
A visitation will be held from 5:00-7:00pm Thursday, December 5th at Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home. On Friday, December 6th, a brief graveside service will be held at 11:30am at Clinton Cemetery, followed by a Celebration of Life service at 3:00pm at the Lawrence First Presbyterian Church with a reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Lions Club of Lawrence Foundation in care of Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home. On the memo line, please write “Mary Gordon Fund.” Donations to this fund will be used for charitable purposes to continue Mary Gordon’s legacy of community support.