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PASSAGES Gordon Lewis Smith
2020-02-13

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Gordon Lewis Smith, age 68, of Chesterton, Indiana, died January 14, 2020. On that day, he'd taken the train to Chicago as always, but shortly after arriving to work, he collapsed. It was his heart. At day's end, as the sun was setting and surrounded by a tender fold of dear friends, an aura of Broadway music softened the hospital air and Barbara Cook's lyric soprano bid him a soft farewell of "Goodnight My Someone".

He was born December 30, 1951 to the late Irving Lewis Smith and Regina Rose ( Brown ) Smith in Bridgeport, Connecticut. At age two, his family moved to Monroe, Connecticut where they lived in a home built by his father, and where his only sister, Dawn Smith Veccherelli, lives still. After graduation from Masuk High School in 1969 and Post Junior College in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1971 he embarked on a professional career in financial services. His first years were with City Trust Bank in Bridgeport, Connecticut and most recently in operations with Deutsche Bank and the heritage investment firm of Alex Brown in Chicago.

According to his sister, a creativity was nurtured from a young age and skills with a sewing machine, needle and thread were encouraged by his mother who hand crafted some of his clothing, including expertly tailored suits. She affirmed that in his youth a love of history and art were developed through family and active involvement in the Monroe Historical Society and the Monroe Congregational Church.

As a costumer for New York and Connecticut theater groups during the 1970's and early 80's he is remembered, according to his friend and fellow theater alum, Denise Medved, now of Hendersonville, North Carolina, for elaborate detail, perfectionism and historically correct execution. She recalls him dressing her for parts in "Carousel", "Barefoot in the Park", "The Man Who Came to Dinner", "Gift of the Maji" and also for Victorian Caroling at Rockefeller Center. During those years, he also created wardrobes of black tie worthy gowns for elite New York charity events as well as accessories for Denise's wedding gown made of fabric woven with actual silver thread.

Gordon lived in Chicago during the late 1980s and 90s sustaining the grief and loss of two life partners. After selling his Sheridan Road penthouse in Chicago in 2003, he changed his venue and moved to Northwest Indiana where he embraced an historic Miller property surrounded by forest, tall grasses and marsh wetlands, the home and gardens of which are now part of the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Gordon's migration to Chesterton was next and a natural as he'd become a close friend with Pilar Berman of Porter, his "work wife" who both worked with him and was among his fellow daily commuters on the South Shore Train to Chicago, many who've remained friends in the years since.

His Chesterton home was a notable Victorian, for which he was proud to curate its history through ongoing renovation. Even after many years in the Midwest and adapting to some of the curious ways of the heartland, he never let go of his roots. He was known to announce that he may live in Indiana but specified proudly and with emphasis, through a square set jaw, redolent of the noble patrician lodged in his essence: that he was from Lower Fairfield County, Connecticut.

He was widely known in Chesterton and Michigan City as a dapper gentleman and an always meticulously turned out man about town. His own wardrobe and accessories were celebrated for their quality and style and the elaborate costumes he crafted for social, charitable and philanthropic events throughout Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan were exceptionally artistic creations from concept to composition. He was also a go to designer and tailor for many of his friends as the visionary behind their distinctive looks for galas, weddings and especially historical costume parties.

In recent months he had been planning enthusiastically for retirement, looking ahead for the adventure and the next phase of his life; a relocation to Palm Springs, California inspired by his dear friends Rick Heath and partner, Bobby Richard, who had moved there ahead of him in the past year.

He lived a very full life with vitality, curiosity and mischief in spite of some tough health obstacles in recent years. He was always game for an escapade especially any involving road trips to thrift shops and estate sales. He was expert at packing his finds into Dante, his 1981 Fiat Spider, whose demise was met under a fallen tree in a storm scene that made news on the front page of the Chesterton Tribune.

He loved live performance and was an appreciative audience with wide ranging tastes from Broadway to Community Theater and from chamber orchestras to bluegrass having a special affinity for anything played within the dive bar genre. Well known in the regional karaoke scene, he pushed a little outside his boundaries and honestly, those of some of his audience, to perform the obscure Broadway show tunes he loved.

In addition to his sister, he is also survived by niece Cortney Veccherelli of Southbury, Connecticut and nephew, Brandon Veccherelli of Montreal, Canada, a grand niece and nephew, former brother-in-law Michael Veccherelli of Huntington, Connecticut, his former mother-in-law, his late partner Brian Healy's mother, Adrienne Michelon of Chicago and Miller Beach, Indiana and many cousins.

For a man who had refined the art of ghosting, or leaving without a goodbye, his exit has left an enormous void for a collective of best friends. He will be so missed by many, especially Rick Heath of Palm Springs and New Buffalo, Michigan, Christine Leonard of Miller Beach, Mark McLane and Carlos Lemus, formerly of Porter and now London, England, Pilar Berman, Craig and Colleen Ramquist and Maria Eicke of Porter, Richard and Ann Marie Riley and Holly Jackson of Chesterton, his frequent sidekick and muse, Mary Lukes, of Michigan City and also his sister by selection, Jamie Hogan also of Porter, all of whom feel fortunate to have had in their lives a someone like him.

He had a wicked sense of humor, sharp tongue and zero patience for a pretty long list of intolerances. An accomplished cook with a catalogue of food quirks, his secret ingredient was silver polish. He loved to share beautiful meals with friends and added flair to any table setting just with his presence. He was a fierce ally with a gentle soul, kind and generous with a big heart, well versed in what it meant to be a friend, to show up, bring a casserole and to be present. He was proficient in the fine art of just setting a spell and letting it be, not needing to fill the air with noise.

A memorial event "Remembering Gordon Smith: A Celebration of His Fabulous Life" will be held on Saturday, February 22, hosted by his dear friends, the Riley's, at their Riley's Railhouse in Chesterton. The evening begins with a reception at 5 p.m. A short program at 6 p.m. will include a time for sharing and remembering stories of Gordon. Guests may celebrate him by wearing something in his best loved color, Tiffany Blue. Or for those who happen to have a Gordon design in their own wardrobe, wear that. There will be music he would approve along with a slide presentation highlighting Gordon's life, both produced by "tiki" Louie Maldonado of Michigan City. His special friend Mary Lukes is curating, with the help of Alexander Dehilster of Michigan City and Maria Eicke, a retrospective of his clothing and costumes, hats, and accessories for display. And some very distinctive and memorable pieces will be worn by his friend Rick Heath. Gordon's accumulation of the colorful socks that were his trademark will be available as token souvenirs.

A signature cocktail, The Gordon Gimlet, is being crafted by Mary Lukes to toast the man who was rarely without the essential ingredient - Rose's Lime Juice. She recalls that he always requested extra lemons and limes, and guests might bring a few of them, too. Special selections from his favorite restaurants are being provided and friends are invited to share potluck appetizers as Gordon would have loved. Just don't bring it in Tupperware, a forbidden social infraction for which he was known to have dramatically raised an eyebrow, rolled his eyes and given the side eye.

He was preceded in death by his parents, grandparents and two life partners, Brian Healy and Randolph, along with his dear, Milo, a dog devoted to his master but known for selectivity in his acceptance of Gordon's close friends.

It was Gordon's wish that his ashes be united with those of his late partners, Brian and Randolph, to be dispersed in all the places he held dear.

Arrangements were respectfully handled by the Cremation Society of Illinois under the expert guidance of Brooke Benjamin, celebrant and funeral director.

~ Lovingly penned by Jamie Hogan, cherished in that category of the family we choose, relied on and trusted to be with him as he transitioned to the great beyond and left also to deal with all those treasures he dragged home in Dante while remembering his footnote that "it isn't actually hoarding if it is good stuff".


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