Good fences make good neighbors?


The people who say that never met Gordon Harry Fordyce, the World War II and Korean War veteran who lived in the home just to the west of me in the friendly confines of Carroll’s Rolling Hills. We were neighbors for about five years.

Mr. Fordyce, 83, died last week at his home of an apparent heart attack.

We are all, of course, mortal, and if you were born in 1926 and served your nation through some of its major trials and snared the octogenarian title, you beat the odds. You had a good life. Mr. Fordyce certainly did.

That considered, some people are so vigorous, so full of life, that it’s hard to conceive of them being gone. Gordie fits the bill with change to spare.

“I had told people for years my dad was going to make the Grim Reaper work,” said one of his daughters, Cynthia Gullicks, of Duluth, Minn.

It’s hard to imagine Mr. Fordyce not pulling up in my driveway after a cattle business loop in the Dakotas or somewhere else. Sometimes he’d get back from a fishing trip and wonderful fish would magically appear in my freezer. I especially liked it when Mr. Fordyce would return from Alaska and the just-caught salmon from our nation’s northern reaches made it from one of Gordon’s large coolers to my house and grill.

Gordie worked right up until he passed away in the cattle business he loved. In the last few weeks of his life, Gordie also found time to hunt and visit his beloved grandchildren. He was a man in motion, to be sure.

The family tells me Mr. Fordyce was cleaning pheasants when Heaven’s call came. He would have loved to be around to tell me that one with that mischievous twinkle of his.

We were neighbors who enjoyed talking in what I think of as our lawn-and-life exchanges — six minutes of his astute observations and advice (and the occasional good-natured complaint) about my yard and landscaping challenges and 54 minutes about life.

“Dad never considered anyone a stranger,” Cynthia told me the other night as we talked about pending arrangements for services and a reception honoring her father, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. military who went on to a career with Ralston Purina and then, at age 62, started an independent cattle consulting business. The family found a cattle magazine open on his desk and a calendar — for 2011 — affixed to his refrigerator. He’d grown up around cattle in northern Iowa and even spent some time as a teen-ager working on a ranch in Montana.

“This was a man who had no intention of dying anytime soon,” Cynthia said.

At times of loss — and anytime, really, for that matter — it is spectacularly offensive when people assume familiarity, when they posit themselves as closer to someone than they actually were. Gordie and I were not super close friends, although he had an abundance of those.

But he made life for me in Carroll much richer. Sometimes the basement door off my garage would crack open, and I’d hear Gordie, with his contagiously optimistic voice, call my name, wanting to have a chat about this or that.

More than once, I thought: You know, this is why one lives in a place like Carroll. You get to have neighbors like Gordie.

One afternoon, a scorching summer affair if memory serves, I’d finished mowing, and Gordie popped over to my driveway.

We moved from one subject to another. At the time I was in my late 30s and observed that, “Well, you know, I’m single without kids. What in the world am I doing with my life, Gordie?”

His eyes brightened, a warm grin emerged, and Gordie waved off my observation.

“You’re doing just fine, Doug,” he said.

That meant something coming from Mr. Fordyce, a straight shooter congenitally incapable of suffering life’s smoke-blowers. I felt better, and we went back to talking about local issues of the day or St. Louis (of which we were both enormously fond) or Alaska or Thief River Falls, Minn., where he married his lovely wife, Arlys in 1951. She passed recently as well.

The couple moved to Carroll in the mid-1980s, after they had raised their kids. They made a life and plenty of friends.

Carroll is better as a result of their decision to locate here. And so is my life.

Godspeed, dear neighbor.