A Peaceful Planet Person

At 91, Gordon Maham spends just about every waking moment working for causes that are dear to him. “I’ve fought a lot of battles,” he says, “and I’ve walked across plenty of lines to end wars and stop bombs.”

His stance against violence landed him three years in the Ashland Federal Penitentiary during World War II for not registering for the draft. He has spent the ensuing decades spreading his creed of peace and helping others. “Gordon is one of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever known,” says a friend.

On my first visit to Gordon’s house the weather was blustery, and using the ax he has had since childhood he split wood for the fireplace. A month later when I arrived, spring was in the air as he toured me around his property. Prominent in his backyard are a picnic table from which deer eat and a barn that houses his elderly, blind horse and stray cats which he feeds. His friends say that Gordon treats animals, insects, and buzzards with as much love and respect as he shows people.

For ten years, Gordon has shared his home with his oldest son, Allen. His daughter Marilyn lives just a mile away and is in frequent contact. Gordon’s children help defray his expenses, including car costs, long-distance calls, and food. Gordon, who is a vegetarian, supplements his diet with chickweed and dandelions and isn’t averse to visiting soup kitchens.

He has lost track of how many times he’s been arrested in peaceful protests. A few times his children have joined him in demonstrations, most notably when Marilyn, son Tom, and his 10-year-old granddaughter accompanied him to the 1982 protest against nuclear bombs in New York’s Central Park, joining a million others. He says his kids have asked him to stop getting arrested, and when he turned 90 he agreed.

But protesting is in his blood, and in April he participated in Oak Ridge’s Action for Peace protest organized by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA).

Gordon spends his small monthly social security check “the way I want to spend it, and that’s helping people, resisting violence, and assisting peace.” His helpfulness extends to supporting a friend dying of cancer; gathering food from food pantries to distribute to Mexican workers split up from their families; building a vegetable garden to help a friend with health problems; coming to the aid of someone getting out of jail; visiting shut-ins in nursing homes and hospitals; taking people to the doctor; and loaning money to anyone down on his/her luck. Although he can become emotionally drained from his good deeds, he relishes the challenges he faces because they are for good causes. “If I don’t have a challenge,” he assures, “I’ll make one!”

According to a friend, Gordon “calls at the opportune moment to step in, as if from God,” a phenomenon Gordon describes as serendipity or “psychic.”

Taking a lot of young friends under his wing, Gordon wants to lead a new generation in the direction of compassion, dedication to good causes, and simple living. Like Thoreau, he encourages people to “simplify.”

Gordon is variously labeled as an organic farmer, a collector of junk which he rebuilds and recycles, an animal lover and protector, an environmentalist, a widower, a father of four, and a grandfather of two. But another role might be looming in his future.

Sixty years ago he had called off an engagement to his old love, Doris. Ruing his behavior, he proffers a ring which he has been saving for her. “I’ve always been taught to do it well or not at all,” he says.

After April’s peace protest in Oak Ridge, he walked two miles to reach Doris’ house and waited patiently for her to answer the door.

Although he hasn’t yet popped the question, with any luck reconnecting with Doris will be Gordon’s next serendipity.

Gordon Maham