Editor’s note: The Observer posted an obituary for Ken Gordon in December (click here), but since then, the family discovered another side to their beloved husband, father and grandfather described in this profile.
By Connie Leinbach
Joyce Gordon is discovering unknown facets of her late husband.
James Kenneth Gordon was 82 when he died unexpectedly the afternoon of Dec. 28 in the couple’s home on Back Road.
It had been a typical day for Ken, as he was known. He’d visited the Fish House (Ocracoke Seafood Company) for his back-room coffee klatch, then came home. He got on his exercise bike for a bit, then went to sit in his recliner while Joyce was on the sofa.
Presently, she heard some odd sounds coming from him. When she went to check on him, he was gone.
Later that night when the couple’s four children and families arrived they discovered several poems Ken had written stashed in the drawer of the table beside his recliner.
“I never saw this side of him,” Joyce said while perusing the papers that held this other, literary side of her husband. “I have no idea when he wrote them.”
Actually, she had seen one of the five poems, but not the others—hand-written tributes to the island they both loved.
“To me, this was so different from the man I knew,” she said. “He was macho and didn’t want to show that side.”
The couple had spent all but 15 of their 82 years together having met in grammar school and then dating while both were in ninth grade in Winston-Salem.
“We graduated high school on a Friday and got married on Sunday,” Joyce said.
Their family grew while Ken ran his dry-cleaning business, Klean Rite Cleaners in Winston-Salem, and Joyce worked as a medical assistant in a doctor’s office.
Joyce is one of those who has instantly bonded with Ocracoke.
“I loved it the minute I got here,” she said. The family vacationed on the island, getting to know many locals.
“He was a very outgoing person,” Joyce said of Ken. “He never met a stranger. He’d go up to people and talk to them, but that’s not me.”
Ken would go to the Fish House at 5 a.m. and make coffee for the men-only gathering, said Ronnie Vann O’Neal.
“I’ve never met anyone as good natured as him,” O’Neal said, noting that the group loved to get Ken going about politics. “We liked to pick on him.”
Ken was never at a loss for words.
“If it went through his mind, it came out his mouth,” Joyce said.
In the winter, when the Fish House turned off its water, Ken would tote gallon-jugs of water for the coffee, O’Neal said, but the klatch ended with Ken’s death.
Retiring in 2003, the couple moved to the island. Along with working in local businesses, fishing and enjoying the beach year-round were high on the couple’s priority list.
“We got to live our dream,” Joyce said.
Although Ken disdained organized religion, his poems reflect his passion for the beach as God’s handiwork.
And Joyce now cherishes these mementos.
“Man, I didn’t know you were a poet,” she said as she gazed fondly at the poems in her hands. “I read them every day.”
In addition to Joyce, Ken is survived by children Debi Servidio of Winston-Salem, Cindy, wife of Richard Carpenter, of Advance, James Kenneth Jr, of Appamattox, Va., and Lisa, wife of Steve Loos, of Winston-Salem; 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren; his sister, Jean, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
After Ken Gordon died, Joyce discovered four hand-written poems below about the Ocracoke. The first one, which was published in the April print issue of the Observer, is Joyce’s favorite.