|Alison Gordon in 2001 from the Toronto Star
Writing was in the family genes. Her grandfather, Ralph Connor (pen name for Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon), was a famous Canadian writer selling millions of books. Her father, J. King Gordon, was an editor and a journalist among other occupations. Her brother, Charles, was a journalist at The Ottawa Citizen.
Alison’s obituaries concentrated on her sports writing career. In 1979 she became the first woman beat writer for a major league baseball team when the Toronto Star assigned her to cover the Toronto Blue Jays.
As the first female member of the Baseball Writers of America her initial membership card read “Mr. Alison Gordon” as they had no cards with any female form of address.
As with most gender pioneers, she experienced prejudice and crude comments as she began her sports writing career. I expect her verbal dexterity let her hold her own in the locker rooms of the American League.
In the Globe & Mail obituary it said:
“When The Star decided to put Alison on the beat in ’79, it was a very hot topic,” said Howard Starkman, former Jays director of public relations. “Everywhere she went, she became a bit of the story, but she was emotionally tough. Her saving graces were that she could definitely write and had good knowledge of baseball.”
I can recall as a young male sports reporter the intimidating feel of walking into a professional sports team dressing room. Athletic egos are not modest and it is a closed world. I admire her dedication to being a sports reporter. After 5 successful years she moved on.
Alison did not get the credit she deserved in those obituaries for her writing career. She created an engaging sleuth in Kate Henry, a female Toronto sportswriter, who mainly solved murders around a fictional Toronto baseball team.
The exception in setting for the series was Prairie Hardball in which Kate returned to her roots in Saskatchewan to attend the induction banquet at the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame where her mother, Helen Henry, was joining over 20 other Saskatchewan women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
It remains my favourite Saskatchewan mystery. I am biased as freely confessed in my review. I am 1st Vice President of the Hall and attended the real life banquet Alison wrote about in the book.
Alison wrote beautifully about that night and captured the spirit of those Saskatchewan women of summer 50 years after their professional sports careers ended.
She did not write another book in the series after Prairie Hardball was published in the mid-1990’s. In a comment Alison posted on Sarah Weinman’s blog in 2004 she explained why the series ended:
The series was curtailed because I felt I had gone as far as I could go with Kate, not because of lack of interest by my publisher. (On the contrary, as a matter of fact.)
She had multiple other interests. From the Globe & Mail:
She became very active in fighting for free expression with PEN Canada. It was under her stewardship as vice-president in 1992 that PEN hosted Salman Rushdie, a few years removed from the controversy surrounding his book The Satanic Verses. She had a strong network of close writer friends – including Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood.
Ms. Gordon was no longer writing books in recent years, but was doing some speech writing for friends in politics. She had become an avid bird watcher …….
The Toronto Star obit said:
She remained an ardent baseball fan until her death, but Gordon’s interests were wide-ranging. Twelve years ago she and 10 friends started a rollicking cover band called 3 Chord Johnny that would play classic R&B and rock ’n’ roll songs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Gordon, who played tambourine, hosted the band’s weekly rehearsals, which were always more about the wine and “Alison’s brilliant guacamole,” said fellow member David Macfarlane
I have a personal regret about Alison’s death. I had intended to interview her by phone about Kate Henry but never got around to arranging the call. Her passing is another reminder not to wait for another day to call someone. Tomorrow may be too late. Alison was a fine writer.