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A Kindness Repaid

  Bernard Gordon, H97

Ask Bernard Gordon, H97, about rooming at West Hall as a sailor in the Second World War, and he recalls a simple act of courtesy that led him years later to finance Tufts’ newest dormitory.

In 1944, the benefactor of the Sophia Gordon Residence Hall was a 17-year-old apprentice seaman from Springfield, Massachusetts, bunking in West Hall while undergoing officer training in the Navy’s V-12 program on the Tufts campus.

One evening, as he walked in uniform across the academic quad, the teenager was greeted in passing by a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman.

“He said, ‘How are you tonight, Bernard?’” Gordon recalled. “It turned out he was the president of the college, Leonard Carmichael. I was amazed he remembered my name. It represented the friendliness of the Tufts experience.”

Gordon would go on to graduate from MIT and gain great success as a pioneering computer engineer. He worked on the world’s first commercial digital computer; founded a company that developed the first fetal monitor and the first lightweight mobile CT scanner, among other innovations; and gained recognition as the father of high-speed analog-to-digital conversion.

More than 60 years after his chance encounter with President Carmichael, Gordon’s positive impression of Tufts remains as his involvement with the school has grown. A trustee of the university and member of the Board of Overseers for Engineering, Gordon has given more than $35 million to Tufts. His generosity is now supporting the construction of the Sophia Gordon Residence Hall.

“When you have the best wife in the world, it’s easy to name something after her,” said Gordon, cofounder and president of Neuro-Logica Corp. of Danvers, Mass. “I hope the dorm lives up to its promise, that the students make good use of it, and that it’s a fine addition to the college.”

Gordon can claim a unique connection to both residence-hall projects under way on campus, having lived in one of the dorms and underwritten the other. Reflecting the difference a half-century can make, the upperclassmen moving into Gordon Hall in 2006 will live four to a suite. Gordon and his fellow sailors at West Hall in 1944 bunked four to a room.

“I remember I lived on the third floor, on the right-hand side, in the room that had the fire escape,” he said. “The older guys would use it to sneak out for dates.”

The fire escape has been removed in the current West Hall renovation. Not that he ever used it as an after-hours escape route, Gordon said. “I was, unfortunately, very pure at that time,” he recalled, with a laugh. “I missed a good time!”

Perhaps it is fitting that, with next year’s dedication of the Sophia Gordon Residence Hall, the sailor who didn’t sneak out for romance will pay tribute to the love of his life.