Community mourns loss of retired professor, donor and student advocate

Award-winning photographer, revered photojournalism professor and dedicated alumnus and donor James R. Gordon died Feb. 14 after a brief illness.

Known for his trademark handlebar mustache, dry sense of humor and commitment to quality journalism, Gordon influenced hundreds of fledgling photojournalists as a journalism professor at Bowling Green State University for 26 years. The emeritus professor of journalism also spent 30 years as editor of the National Professional Photographers Association magazine, which was a labor of love for him and Joan, his beloved wife and fellow BGSU journalism graduate. Joan died Sept. 13, 2013 of liver cancer.

Jim and Joan met as students in the journalism program at BGSU in the early 1950s and maintained a lifelong commitment to the University, its students and the community.

After graduating in 1956, he worked as a photojournalist for two Ohio newspapers, before returning to BGSU as director of the University News and Photo Service. He served in that position until joining the journalism faculty, where he directed the photojournalism sequence from 1966-92. He also was adviser for The Key yearbook from 1959-80.

Throughout his career he earned numerous awards including the Silver Anvil Award, the highest honor from the Public Relations Society of America, for the two-day event surrounding the inauguration of then-president William T. Jerome III. He also was named Ohio Photographer of the Year in 1970, and earned the highest awards of the Ohio News Photographer Association and National Professional Photographers Association in 1978 and 1986, respectively.

Upon his retirement in 1992, the Gordons established a scholarship in their names to support a journalism student.  

“Jim’s focus was always on the student’s learning experience. He led the creation of student publications at the University which provides that critical hands on experience,” said Robert Bortel, BGSU director of student media. “That commitment to our students continues through their scholarship.”

He stayed connected to the University after his retirement, assuming the role of editor and publisher of the BGSU Retirees Association quarterly newsletter.

After Joan’s death, Jim created a new scholarship in her memory to honor her involvement with the Wood County Committee on Aging and the Wood County Senior Center. The Joan Honkala Gordon Gerontology Scholarship provides support for students in the Master of Interdisciplinary Gerontology degree program in the College of Health and Human Services.  

Dr. Marie Huff, dean of the BGSU College of Health and Human Services, said “I was impressed by Gordon’s kind heart, generous spirit and his love and devotion to Joan.

“The gerontology scholarship established in Joan’s name will benefit students in the gerontology program, as well as the future individuals and families they will work with, for years to come.