Brandon University mourns passing of longtime Music Professor William Gordon

October 21, 2021

It is with profound sadness that the School of Music at Brandon University (BU) announces the death of William Gordon, who passed away peacefully while surrounded by his loving family, on the evening of October 14th.

Professor Gordon, known to so many of us as “Bill”, joined BU’s faculty in September 1970, retired from the full-time faculty at the end of 2013, and continued to teach university courses until 2020.  His career was remarkable for its duration, its depth, and its breadth, and the School of Music is a significantly richer place because of him.

A man stands in front of trees

Professor William Gordon

Of his innumerable contributions, his most permanent is surely his enormous input to the design and construction of the world-class Queen Elizabeth II Music Building. In the early 1980s, Prof. Gordon led a team of project managers and was ultimately appointed by Gordon MacPherson, then Dean of Music, to serve as Project Co-ordinator for the design and construction of the building. An enormous, multi-year effort, his work in this capacity is celebrated to this day: the Queen Elizabeth II Music Building School continues to be heralded as one of the finest purpose-designed and built facilities of its kind. So much of how we do our work is a result of the careful planning, incredible insight, and hard work that Bill did on behalf of us all.  Architect Glen Cockburn, reflecting on this project many years later, wrote that the building shows Prof. Gordon’s “methodical research, attention to detail, and commitment to incorporating the practical needs of the Music Faculty into the building’s design and concept. … He has demonstrated and achieved his love for Music through his careful thoughts [and] provided a state-of-the-art environment that will last for many generations to come.”

Originally from Dorset, in the United Kingdom, Bill graduated from the Royal College of Music in London and immediately won a chair in the acclaimed Ulster Orchestra, based in Belfast, Ireland.  This position was an early sign of his great skill as a French Horn performer — perhaps an earlier sign was his being hired to play in the recording sessions that led to one of the Beatles’ most acclaimed albums: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

A man speaks at a podium

Bill Gordon speaks at the BU retirement ceremony in 2014.

Moving to Canada in 1967 to work with the CBC Orchestra based in Winnipeg, Bill’s skills as an educator were immediately recognized, and he found himself teaching at Gordon Bell High School for one year and at Sisler for two. We continue to encounter former public school students of “Mr. Gordon” who remember with fondness the great impact he had on their musicianship and their overall development.

William Gordon’s contributions to our University are too many to list. He was enormously accomplished as a horn teacher, drawing students to the School of Music from across Canada and leading a thriving and nationally renowned studio. His horn students have gone on to wonderfully accomplished and varied careers, many of them staying in close touch with their mentor. As a contributor to the School of Music, Prof. Gordon taught almost every course in the Calendar at one time or another. Enormously flexible, intelligent, and committed to student success, he took on teaching assignments — at both the graduate and undergraduate levels — in music theory, music history, music appreciation, conducting, instrumental techniques, aural skills, orchestral literature, and music education.  Of course, Prof. Gordon was deeply engaged in the design of the School’s curricula from a student-success perspective, making him a faculty member upon whom students relied for advice and advising. Prof. Gordon’s musicianship and impressive skill set also made him an ideal candidate to lead ensembles. He directed the very first Brandon University Concert Band and went on to conduct the School of Music’s Wind Band, Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, and Brass ensemble on many occasions; most recently, Prof. Gordon, covering a sabbatical leave in 2020, successfully directed the School of Music’s Orchestra.

A large band plays outside in an amphitheatre

Bill Gordon directs the BU Reunion Band in 2006.

Not surprisingly, Prof. Gordon was enormously engaged in the life of our School of Music, University, and community.  As an admired, trusted, and respected colleague, Prof. Gordon was appointed to serve as Acting Dean of Music on three occasions (2005, 2008, and 2013) as well as Interim Associate Registrar for the University (2005—2008).  His c.v. shows that he chaired the Music Education committee from 1970 to 1981, then immediately chaired the Applied committee from 1981 to 1986 and again from 1989 to 1994.  He went on to chair the History and Theory Department from 2000 to 2006, in addition to many other leadership roles on our campus.  An incredibly intelligent and adaptable person, Prof. Gordon became an accomplished audio engineer, developing a highly functional recording studio in the School of Music and engineering two recordings (Brandon University CD1 and CD2) that beautifully showcased student and faculty performers. His musical and leadership skills led to many distinguished contributions and recognitions. These include Prof. Gordon serving as the President of the Brandon Festival of the Arts and the Associated Manitoba Arts Festivals, conducting the Mennonite Community Orchestra, and being recognized with a Distinguished Service Award by the Manitoba Band Association.

Dean Emeritus Lawrence Jones wrote of William Gordon that “There are few members of the University Faculty who could match the quantity and quality of Bill’s contributions to the campus, city, region, and province.”  Another dearly departed and long-time colleague of Prof. Gordon wrote (all the way back in 1994) that he was a colleague who could “bring to any situation a broad knowledge and receptiveness to new knowledge which enables effective and innovative action. …

“His service to Brandon University is surely unsurpassed.”

Current Dean of Music, Greg Gatien, says “We are saddened and shocked by this news. Bill Gordon, who remained so involved with the School and community, holds a special place for me and so many of my colleagues. He was enormously generous in welcoming new colleagues, gently showing us the ropes, and being incredibly open to new ideas.  He was a role model in so many ways and taught so much to so many of us.  His legacy holds a special place in the School of Music:  on top of an unmatchable record of service and longevity, Bill’s contributions to our beautiful building are all around us always. We will miss him a great deal and always be grateful to have had him on our faculty.”

Heartfelt condolences are extended to Bill’s wonderful partner of 39 years, School of Music alumna Kathie Gordon, and his two incredible children, Emma and Patrick, who are also proud and distinguished alumni of our University, and their respective partners, John and Andrea. A celebration of Prof. Gordon’s life is planned for the Summer of 2022.

A new scholarship is being created in Prof. Gordon’s honour. Gifts in his memory may be made to the William Gordon Memorial Scholarship Fund at Brandon University Foundation by mail to 270 18th Street, Brandon, MB, R7A 6A9, online at BrandonU.ca/Give, or by phone to 204-727-7374.

The BU flag is being lowered to half-mast in Prof. Gordon’s honour.

Thank-you to Greg Gatien, Dr. Sheelagh Chadwick, Dr. Andrée Dagenais, Dean Emeritus Dr. Lawrence Jones and Kathie Gordon for their contributions to this announcement.