Gordon Swift Calhoun

Gordon Swift Calhoun

Died April 30, 1973

Gordon Calhoun died April 30, 1973 at the Coltsfoot Farm home of his parents in Cornwall, CT. He had been suffering from spinal tuberculosis, which he contracted in Nepal probably through his consumption of unprocessed dairy products. The diagnosis was made a few years after his return when he underwent back surgery for inexplicable back pain. Subsequent to that surgery, Gordon developed an inoperable brain tumor which eventually destroyed his will to live. His death was ruled a suicide. Survivors at the time included his parents, his wife Mimi, two sisters, two brothers, and nine nieces and nephews.

Gordon prepared for Yale at Housatonic Valley Regional High School and the Hotchkiss School. His Yale roots were deep: his grandfather was a member of the Class of 1883S, his father graduated in 1927, as did a brother in 1959. A member of Branford College, Gordon majored in French, sang in the Freshman Glee Club, the Apollo Glee Club and the St. Thomas More Choir. He was a member of Dwight Hall and chaired the Community Council his senior year.

After Yale, Gordon joined the Peace Corps and served for two years in a small village outside Kathmandu, Nepal.

Not long after his return to the United States, he met his wife Mimi at a Peace Corps gathering in New York City. She too had been stationed in Nepal, though they had not met during their times there. They were married in 1971 and settled in the Manhattan’s East Village where Gordon taught adults English as a second language.

Mimi recently provided the following insights into his life in New York City: “Gordon continued his love of singing and spent long hours rehearsing and performing with the Village Light Opera Group, a community theater group in New York which was established in 1935 and continues to this day. During Gordon’s tenure with the group, each performance was a Gilbert and Sullivan show. The group was remarkably professional and high spirited. Other post-college interests revolved around issues of social justice and social responsibility. He campaigned tirelessly for the reelection of John Lindsay as Mayor of New York City. The first Earth Day in 1970 generated a passion for environmental responsibility and the initial steps of being able to recycle, carting bags of empty bottles several blocks to the nearest recycling center. Gordon was a staunch advocate of ending the war in Viet Nam but, unfortunately, did not live to see its end. His life after Yale was filled with all the exuberance and excitement of the late 60s and early 70s. He jumped into the marches and music and debates with great enthusiasm and great idealism, a tribute to both the Calhoun civic values rooted in Yale and his own molding at Yale during his four years of university study.”

Dale Freeman remembers: I roomed with Gordon in our freshman year; and though we wound up in different colleges, we remained close friends throughout our years at Yale and afterwards. We sang together in the Apollo Glee Club and were both active in Dwight Hall. I often accompanied him on his visits home to Cornwall in western Connecticut where his family (Yale back to the Stone Age) always welcomed me warmly and where Gordon seemed his happiest self. We traveled together in Europe after our junior year, and I visited him in Nepal when he was a Peace Corps volunteer there. I visited him in the hospital where he was being treated for spinal tuberculosis after returning from Nepal, and more happily, attended his wedding to Mimi in 1971. I was traveling in South America in 1973 when word reached me of his death. Disease took its toll on Gordon both physically and psychologically, but I prefer to remember the witty, high spirited, generous and caring man who enriched my life in so many ways.

In planning our trip to Europe, Gordon persuaded me to join him at a 3 week work camp in the French countryside. Gordon spoke fluent French, and I had just begun studying the language, but it turned out to be a delightful experience from beginning to end. Later, I remember spending a lazy afternoon in a Paris cafe with some friends from the work camp. Gordon had us all in stitches with his comical efforts to get me to smoke one of his cigarettes. I imagine the wine had something to do with making this funny, but I remember it to this day. I also remember visiting Gordon in the village in Nepal where he’d been working for about two years. The very tall Gordon stood out among the generally much shorter villagers, but he had clearly woven himself into the fabric of the community, and he seemed completely at home.

Funnily enough, a part of Gordon stays with me to this day. I no longer remember how, but long ago I acquired a woolen scarf that belonged to Gordon. His name tag is sown into it. Living in California I don’t often need a scarf, but when I do, and every time I travel East in the winter, I find Gordon’s scarf and carry it with me. What better way to hold onto the memory of a friend who was so dear to me.

Samuel Kilbourn remembers: A sophomore roommate, Gordon was a consistently cheery presence. We did not spend much time together – he was quiet, much as I, and I did not know him well. Terribly sad, though, that he is gone. I spent every day that year from last class to dinner at gymnastics, which saved me. I now regret that I did not get to know him better.