Ottawa Citizen

Alison Gordon blazed a locker room trail


A trailblaze­r is someone who goes where others have not gone. Alison Gordon was all of that. Feisty, some might say salty, and very, very funny, she was the first woman beat writer to cover the Toronto Blue Jays when the Toronto Star hired her in 1979. She walked into dressing rooms to interview some of the most selfabsorb­ed profession­al athletes in North America and handled it with determinat­ion.

Her first season was difficult: Her efforts to gain access to locker rooms often attracted more attention than the games she was covering. But she prevailed and won a National Newspaper Award citation for sportswrit­ing for 1979. She stayed on the Jays for five years, eventually writing a funny memoir about her time there called Foul Balls.

She called it quits after five years, fed up with the travel and the machismo. And she turned her pen to five mystery novels featuring a 40-year-old woman sports writer turned detective named Kate Henry. The first was called Dead Pull Hitter and was published in 1988.

As a baseball writer, the family says, she demonstrat­ed a fluid style, an appreciati­on for the human side of the game, as well as a biting wit.

“Her love of baseball may have been inherited from her maternal grandfathe­r, Isaac Anderson, an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan,” the family says in a obituary.

Anderson was also, for a time, mystery reviewer for The New York Times and a serious crossword puzzle solver, both of which interests she carried on, the family says.

Gordon, who attended Queen’s University, was also active in the peace movement in the 1960s and played a key role in support of Pierre Trudeau’s run for the Liberal leadership in 1968. She worked for the CBC as a producer at As It Happens and as a news anchor in Halifax. She also did freelance writing, earning a National Magazine Award for humour writing in 1978.

Gordon died on Thursday, after a brief undetermin­ed illness, at age 72.

Alison Gordon was born Jan. 1, 1943 in New York City, a dual citizen who chose Canadian citizenshi­p at 21. As her father was a diplomat, she went to schools around the globe from New York State to Tokyo, Cairo and Rome.

The Gordon family has connection­s to Eastern Ontario. Her grandfathe­r was Rev. Charles William Gordon, better known by his pen name Ralph Connor and for the book Glengarry School Days. Her father, John King Gordon, was a prominent professor, diplomat and journalist.

King Gordon was also one of the authors of the Regina Manifesto and was involved in the Co-operative Commonweal­th Federation. From 1944 to 1947, he was an editor of The Nation magazine.

Her brother Charles Gordon had a long career at the Ottawa Citizen, where he was a much-loved columnist, editor and mentor to many in the newsroom at Baxter Road.

“I don’t think she went into (sports writing) with the idea of, ‘I want to be a trailblaze­r,’ ” he said. “There had certainly been women before who had written about baseball, but I think she was the first actual female beat writer, so the whole question of the lockerroom was just huge in her first year. Teams just didn’t have a policy … just about everywhere she went she had to fight to get in.”

“She was a pioneer,” said Howard Starkman, the Jays former media relations director, whose career with the team spanned five decades. “She was a strong woman from an emotional point of view and at that time you had to be because she faced a lot of challenges.”

Challenges Gordon faced headon, Starkman said.

“I thought she was able to handle it,” he said. “She could write, she had good passion for the game, so when she did get into the scrum she was able to handle herself. She had credibilit­y with her baseball knowledge, so when she wrote about it she wasn’t trying to fool anybody. She knew what she was talking about.”

Still, it could be very difficult at times.

“It wasn’t fun for her,” said her brother, who was also a Books editor at the Citizen. “She didn’t enjoy the fact that, often when she went to a new city, she was the story instead of the team.

“Also, just the frustratio­n of being delayed getting the quotes you needed to file on time for an overnight deadline.”

In later years, the family says, Alison Gordon developed an interest in birding and travelled in pursuit of her hobby. She was active with PEN Canada and she “served as unofficial den mother and tambourini­st with the rock group Three Chord Johnny.”

She is survived by her older brother Charles (Nancy) of Ottawa, nephew John Gordon (Cynthia Chan) and son Desmond Chan-Gordon, niece Mary Gordon (Christophe­r Rands) of Ottawa and their children Charley and Catherine Rands.

Funeral arrangemen­ts are pending.

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