Oh, my dear old friend. It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Gordon was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion—for one cannot find sufficient words to express my gratitude for this man who came into my life, and departed for this minuscule period of time in the scope of the history of mankind.
Gordon possessed a tenacious unwillingness to yield. It was as if he had been plucked from the Edwardian age. He scorned computers and cell phones and many other modern trappings of the 21st Century. The typewriter was his main instrument for writing. Because of his aversion to cell phones, on long trips to Sherlockian events, I would often call Galea to reassure her we were fine. To be fair, Gordon was born a long time ago, on 2/2 2/1935. Note that date, 2-22. How ironic that he missed the address of Sherlock Holmes by one day. Well, every schoolboy knows that Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street, and Sherlock Holmes was to become an important person in his life.
It was because of Sherlock Holmes that I traveled many miles with Gordon over the past 39 years. He appeared at one of the spring meetings of “The Occupants of the Empty House” in 1978. You could probably count the meetings he did not attend on one hand between then and now. In 1979, Michael Bragg moved away, and Newt Williams, the secretary, insisted I become the president. Guess who became the vice-President? Yep, the guy who threatened to lock me in his trunk and drive me to a symposium in Dubuque, Iowa—if I did not agree to go with him. The second such threat occurred shortly after that when we were invited to attend a meeting of The Baker Street Irregulars of New York. I hesitated, and he discouraged the hesitancy. It seems like a century ago, but the shared memories are as vivid as yesterday.
New York was quite a change from our southern Illinois roots. Gordon grew up in Cairo, Illinois, and I, in Carbondale. To New Yorkers, we must have appeared as hayseeds from some remote corner of the world who walked everywhere and did not tire even when running up the steep stairs of a Greenwich Village apartment building. Our New York friends took us to dinner at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame—the Annie Oakley room. We sat on hay bales at the table, and the moon slowly drifted across a slightly clouded sky. The drone of the crickets and tree frogs could be heard in the distance. I guess they did not understand that even in the midwest we live in houses with indoor plumbing.
Then there was the time we went on the great metal desk quest to Redmond, California. I suggested that it might be more practical to buy a new desk than to rent a truck and drive to California and back. However, Gordon explained he was also taking some of his mother’s furniture to his sister along the way; thus, there was a reason—it was not completely the old tenacious unwillingness at work here. The trip was, as were they all, an adventure.
Gordon was invested into the prestigious Baker Street Irregulars in 1986 as Colonel James Barclay. Gordon did not share any traits with Colonel Barclay, but he did not care— he was now a BSI. I was very proud of him. Gordon’s writings about the 60 original stories had caught the attention of those who select the deserving recipients. His published papers drew attention to our little band of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts. He was, in short, our ambassador.
When I became the editor of The Baker Street Journal in 1993, I took Gordon with me as the associate editor. This was an unprecedented move for the Irregulars, but they understood. I would not go without Gordon—any more than he would go without me. Did I mention the cartoon by Jeff Decker concerning Bill and Gordon on a trip to the Zoo. I think it is the only time Gordon did not get top billing.
Did I mention that we traveled a great deal together? In our journeys we talked about life, Sherlock Holmes, what to expect when we arrived, etc. In short, we became very close. He was my brother. I loved him like a brother. And as fate would have it, after his emergency heart surgery, Galea told the hospital I was his brother, so I could get into the ICU to see him. The doctor look puzzled because of my height and Gordon’s limited stature. After careful scrutiny, the suspicious doctor finally announced that we really did look a lot alike. I think Galea may have strained something trying to not laugh out loud. Gordon looked a bit pale as well, from holding it in.
Gordon was always a bit uncomfortable when anyone thanked him profusely for his generous acts. He would always take gifts for our hosts, carefully stowed away in the trunk as we would begin a journey. It may be the contents of a particular bottle of scotch that our host enjoyed, but Gordon always seemed to know the right gift. In New York each year, we held court in our suite following the BSI meeting. So many ideas were hatched at these meetings, and the refreshments were free to all. When the Shaw collection went to Minnesota, Gordon expressed a concern that the collection may overwhelm the library staff, and so the annual Shaw fund collection was made to assist the library. Our entire scion, and some distant friends, take part every year. We had hoped that other scions would follow suit, yet to little avail. However, watch closely each year. Our annual donation will be made “in loving memory of Gordon R. Speck.” It was his most popular cause.
Countless Sherlockians throughout the world have been benefactors of Gordon’s generous gifts: books, periodicals, spirits, etc. He even took the time to xerox an entire book for Newt Williams when Newt said he could not find a copy of Ellery Queen’s Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think Gordon ever knew I knew about that one, preferring everyone believe Newt did it himself.
Gordon was a voracious reader and introduced me to many new ideas and authors. He was a punctilious proof reader, and a ubiquitous presence wherever we would travel. I mention Gordon’s writing style because one of our distant friends referred to Gordon as “Mr. Funk and Wagnals” for his use of superior verbiage. Therefore, true to form, Gordon’s constant use of more antediluvian words created a flurry of page turning as he read each new paper. He was one of a kind.
In all, the journey with Gordon was always exciting, never dull, and made special by his presence. He was generous to a fault, outgoing, and always attracted a crowd at a gathering, be it Sherlockian or his beloved class reunion. I could talk for hours about my dear departed friend. But I rest assured that in my heart, Gordon still lives, somewhat like Holmes and Watson. They were described as “two men of note who can never die.” The poem reads “only those things the heart believes are true.” So it is between Gordon and The Occupants of the Empty House. Though our hearts are broken he cannot escape. For one brief moment each month he would journey to DuQuoin, where it is always 1895. Therefore, in our hearts, he will always sit before the hearth of Camden House enjoying the program, and encouraging us to continue our task. For his greatest trait was that he discouraged hesitancy in every one of us. Go ahead, he would say. Do it! And, as for me, I did it. He never did put me in the trunk of his car, and because of Gordon, my life was changed forever.
Last but not least, Gordon was a writer of the first water—the highest degree of quality or purity in whatever he chose to write. Gordon possessed the ability to say more with only few words than many can say in volumes. Rest in peace, My Dear Watson.