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The Loss of Friends

The Death of Edward S. Gordon and Thoughts of Others

By Carter B. Horsley

Edward S. Gordon passed away September 21, 2000 at the age of 65. Ed was a very bright light of the real estate industry in the early 1970's when he formed his own commercial real estate brokerage firm. Cushman & Wakefield, Inc., was the dominant brokerage firm at the time, but Ed had a great flair for advertising and quickly began to build up his firm, Edward S. Gordon, Inc., and by the mid-1980s it was a major rival to Cushman & Wakefield and surpassed it often in subsequent years. In the 1990's, he would sell the firm to Insignia but it has remained a major force in the industry.

I knew nothing much about big-time New York City real estate until I became a reporter in the real estate news department of The New York Times in 1970. At first, I thought I would not like the assignment, but I soon discovered how fascinating development in New York can be, especially when one had access to all the major developers, architects, planners and brokers.

I quickly became very friendly with a few wheeler-dealers such as Jerry I. Speyer of Tishman Speyer Properties, John Dowling of Cushman Wakefield, and Edward S. Gordon, whose firm was still young. These were the young, bright and lively figures who stood out from the crowd. My other major sources were slightly older: William Zeckendorf Jr., Harry B. Helmsley, Seymour Durst and Larry Silverstein, all titans of the industry. They were many others, all of whom were cooperative and bright, but the class act amongst them was Ed. Ed was a very natty dresser with a very quick wit - a dapper and dashing dude. More importantly, Ed always had his gears turning and glee in his eyes.

I really did not socialize with most of them outside of work, but occasionally Ed would call me very early on a weekend morning to invite me for breakfast. His idea of breakfast was not the usual "power" breakfast at the Regency or Carlyle hotels, but a spin in his latest plane. Invariably, I was seriously hung-over as it was an "off" day from my job at The Times, but before I got to demur or mutter, he was hanging up the phone and saying he would pick me up in 20 minutes. He would drive me out to Teterboro, N.J., and we would board his plane to go off "somewhere" for breakfast at some small airport. Once, I brought my date along but I was feeling the effects of a very late evening at Elaine's and crouched down in the back seat of his push-pull plane, the type with a propeller in the front and one in the back. My date was thrilled, but I was praying that some Dramamine I had would work. Ed enjoyed my hangovers and decided to do a lot of "touch-downs" in which he would land the plane on the runway but instead of coming to a stop taking off again so he could practice his landings. He was a very good and conscientious pilot and after we had coffee at the Wilkes-Barre airport in Pennsylvania we set off right away back to New York and he even let my date fly the plane for a minute or two, which proved that the Dramamine was not quite up to the job. When we landed, Ed turned to me and smiled and said "Now, wasn't that fun?"

Being with Ed was always fun and I was shocked to learn of his death by seeing the full-page ad in The New York Times with a good picture of him against the city's skyline and a comment that the city had been good to him. I had had dinner at Elaine’s with a neighbor of his in the Hamptons just a few days before and Ed's name had come up and I made some nice comments about him and had even thought of giving him a call. I did not know that he had been ill.

I have a lot of guilt about not attending memorials for a lot of fine acquaintances who have passed away in the last couple of years or so: Joe Mitchell, the writer for The New Yorker, whose daughter, Nora, and I played together as children; Brendan Gill, another writer for The New Yorker, who was the most elegant and articulate preservationist in the city; Sammy Solovitz, the head of copyboys for many years at The New York Times who kept me moving and was my "banker" in those lean early years of late-night poker games and gossiping in the newsroom; Bill Luce, whose bright suspenders and broad mustache enlivened the newsroom and who was the editor on the most important story I ever tried to write for The Times (see The City Review articles on "Chinagate"); and Daniel H. Lavezzo Jr., the legendary owner for decades of P. J. Clarke's, the famous saloon (See The City Review article on its famous jukebox), whose stature and sly grin reflected a treasure-chest of experience and marvelous anecdotes.

All of these fine, hard-working men shared a great, jolly zest for life and work. I regret I did not make the effort to become closer friends with them, but hope that they realized how much I liked and respected them.

Their deaths struck me as real losses. These were people I looked forward to being with. The camaraderie was genuine.

I have been lucky that I have not had to deal with death very often. One of my very best friends at Trinity School, David Priest, died while he was attending Dartmouth College and I was shocked but had not seen him for a couple of years and my response was sadness but for some reason I did not dwell on it and rarely thought about it and him, a fact about which I have always felt some guilt because he had been helpful, bright and fun.

Many years later, I learned of the death of Sylvia Simoncelli, a beautiful Italian young woman who went come to New York every December for many years and we would go out and have delightful times visiting the new clubs and everyone was infatuated with her wonderful smile, amazing energy and amusing accent. She had a terrible car accident in Italy and was in a coma for a while and then recovered, but apparently some of her friends spent less time with her. She invited me to join her for her birthday party aboard a large yacht in Capri sometime afterwards, but I couldn't rearrange my schedule and sadly did not go. I didn't see her afterwards and a couple of years later ran into one of her best girl friends who told me Sylvia had committed suicide a few months before. Sylvia loved the fast life, but she also was quite serious about writing and had several articles appear in major European magazines and at one point had been working on a book on some famous European terrorists. I miss her every New Year's and her death disturbed me a lot because she had so much life in her.

Another lovely lady whose passing shocked me was Lacey Fosburgh, a close colleague of while at The Times whose cousin I went out with for a while and I was also close with her brother, who I delightedly ran into just a couple of weeks ago in Central Park after a long hiatus. I had a policy of never even thinking of going out with anyone I worked with, but I broke that policy when Lacey invited me to go with her to a concert by Ravi Shankar, whom she knew. Lacey went on to a fine journalistic career at The Times and got married and I never saw her again until she appeared on a Bill Moyers's television program about people in a hospice. She looked quiet and I missed her bright, perky, broad smile.

I also mourn the death a few years ago of my uncle, Abraham Mahr, whose hand-me-down clothes kept me quite stylish for many years. I never saw him that often as he lived in Baltimore, but during my occasional visits he always impressed me as a very responsible adult who might seem stern but could always offer an attentive ear and very sound advice. He had a long life, but I wish it had been longer.

My mother's death in 1991 was, and is, devastating. My greatest critic and most intimate friend as well as an extraordinary woman of immense style, authority and humor who sacrificed everything for my benefit, her loss is constant and still difficult to bear as she was my crutch of honesty and integrity whom I hope to honor somehow.

There have been others dear and important to me that do not now just come to mind and I abhor that fact, the self-absorption with present interests and concerns that makes it too easy to be callous with loved ones with whom one has shared and confronted life, even if only casually.

Friends and relatives are precious and memories of them are very dear and important.

Life is so short, but for the fortunate the good times have been shared and should be cherished. We should remember that it is our fault they were not more good times. Life does go on and memories get jostled but their lives are part of our lives and are only as faint as our meager, slight understanding of ourselves.

We should passionately know and celebrate them long however brief our encounters.

 

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