BAR HARBOR — Gordon Iver Erikson, 92, an entrepreneur, civic leader and true gentleman, died on March 16, 2012, at Massachusetts General Hospital following an innovative heart procedure.
He was born in Worcester, Mass. on Feb. 7, 1920, the son of roofing contractor Iver Erikson and his wife Helen Marker Erikson. He was raised in the industrial, working-class community of Worcester; he graduated from North High School and did a post-graduate year at Worcester Academy. While still in high school he developed a lifelong interest in photography. After taking photos for a friend who wrote a youth column for the local newspaper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, he took over the column when his friend moved on. His pictures caught the eye of an editor and he was asked to expand his photo coverage territory to everything from the police beat to social events. In his memoirs, Mr. Erikson reminisces about taking photos at a murder scene and then having to hurry to cover a country club social.
Mr. Erikson wanted to join the armed services when the United States entered World War II, but a heart murmur and a hearing loss made him ineligible. He did use some of his connections at the paper to get a job with the Army War College as a civilian photographer; but his superior urged him to return to the University of Maine.
In order to help pay his tuition, Mr. Erikson got a job as a photographer for the Bangor Daily News. He recalled one of his most exciting assignments was photographing Eleanor Roosevelt at the Blaine House in Augusta during her first visit to Maine.
When he was a sophomore at UMaine, some of Gordon’s classmates urged him to attend a mixer at the campus gym. In his memoirs, he recalls all the coeds being lined up on the bleachers on the opposite side of the gym. “One girl stood out from the rest,” he wrote. “She was the image of movie star Rita Hayworth who was very popular at the time.”
The starlet look-alike was a Bar Harbor girl named Dorothy Frances Brewer. When the young man mustered up the courage to cross the room and ask her dance, she turned him down.
“My dance card was already full,” Dorothy Erikson recalls. “But he was a nice looking fellow and I said he was welcome to come find me after the dance.”
He walked Dorothy back to her dorm that night. It was the start of a 70-year romance.
Dorothy graduated a year ahead of Gordon, and left to work as a dietitian in Boston. But the two kept in touch. The August after he graduated, in 1943 with a degree in business administration, the two were married at St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Bar Harbor.
“Gordon had visited Bar Harbor before and really didn’t think much of it – all those mammoth hotels and summer cottages,” says Mrs. Erikson. “He was from a working class town and probably didn’t feel as if he fit in. But he grew to love it as much as I did.”
Just about every summer of their life together was spent in Bar Harbor, first in Salisbury Cove and eventually at Redwood, a Victorian-style summer cottage on the Shorepath.
The couple settled in West Boylston, Mass. where Mr. Erikson went to work for his father’s roofing business, The Erikson Company. But his strong entrepreneurial spirit led him to start a company called Security Acceptance Corporation to help homeowners finance home improvements. His son, Gordon, Jr., says his father eventually had branches throughout the East Coast employing close to 150 people.
Gordon, Jr. says his dad also had a keen eye for seeing what new technological advances were worth investing in and was instrumental in forming other new business ventures including Electro Fiber Optics, Optronics, and Insight Technology. Gordon Sr. also founded a nautical woodworking company called The Captain’s Quarters.
Mr. Erikson was active in the Lions Club and Masons. But his most important consideration was his family.
His daughter, Nancy Ladd, says he was a very active presence in their lives. He was involved in their school activities, took them on fun excursions and adventures and taught them how to sail, play golf, enjoy music and, in general, how to lead a happy, productive life.
In the summers Gordon and Dorothy loved to entertain friends and family at Redwood and, the shorefront cottage was the site of many alumni events since Gordon was president of the general alumni association for the University of Maine. In the early ’70s he received the Pine Tree Award for highest alumni service.
Also in Bar Harbor, Mr. Erikson served as the treasurer of the Bar Harbor Club, and on the boards of the Pot and Kettle Club and the Maine Seacoast Mission.
When he and Dorothy started spending winters in Naples, Fla., Mr. Erikson volunteered as the photographer for the Trinity Church Antique Show fund-raiser.
In addition to his sailing, golf and photography, he enjoyed listening to big band music and collecting antique cameras and nautical items.
In the past few years Mr. Erikson’s heart murmur had evolved into a serious valve problem. Because he was otherwise in such good physical health, he was deemed to be a good candidate for a potentially lifesaving valve replacement procedure.
Looking forward to many more summers at Redwood and a variety of ongoing projects while anticipating more new adventures, Mr. Erikson opted to take the risk.
According to his family he came through the surgery fine, but two days later, his heart, which served them all well for 92 years, failed.
While his children are sad their father won’t be there for adventures with another generation of grandchildren, they are grateful he took the time to write down the life lessons he had taught them.
Suggestions to Grandchildren
1. Everything in moderation.
2. Correct mistakes you make quickly.
3. Buy good stocks and hold them.
4. Be flexible, look in all directions, and don’t stumble.
5. Save some money each week.
6. Have the courage to take a chance.
7. Network, network. And don’t hesitate to ask for assistance. Most people like to help others.
8. Keep organized in your thoughts, paperwork and clothing.
9. Take care of all your belongings.
10. Be positive. The glass is always half full, never half empty!
In addition to his wife Dorothy, Gordon is survived by his daughter Nancy Erikson Ladd and her husband Samuel of Cumberland Foreside, Maine; his son Gordon “Eric” Erikson, Jr. and his wife Donna of Cumberland Foreside, Maine; and son Carlton Erikson and his wife Marianne of Castle Rock, Colo.; grandchildren Thomas, Peter, Daniel, Abigail, Meleena and Edward; six great-grandchildren; sisters Connie Erikson, Christie and Beverly Erikson Stewart and, in Bar Harbor, sisters-in-law Charlotte Proctor and Barbara Brewer, and brother-in-law Leslie Brewer.
A memorial service is scheduled at St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Bar Harbor on Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to: The Maine Seacoast Mission, 127 West St. Bar Harbor, ME 04609 or the Mount Desert Island Hospital, 10 Wayman Lane Bar Harbor ME 04609.