Joel C. Gordon, 94, beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather and devoted business and civic leader passed away peacefully at his home on March 30 surrounded by the love and presence of his family. He is survived by his wife, Bernice Weingart Gordon; their four children, Sherrie Gordon Eisenman (Alan), Robert A. Gordon (Julie), Frank E. Gordon (Gwen) and Gail Gordon Jacobs; 12 grandchildren, Kelly Eisenman Unger (Jacob), Tracy Eisenman Gagin (Eyal) and Ryan Eisenman- Zachary, Brian and Michael Gordon - Gavin, Cameron and Taylor Gordon - Matthew, Tyler and Morgan Jacobs; and four great grandchildren, Hudson, Graham and Elle Unger and Eden Gagin. Mr. Gordon took great delight in his large and close knit family. The 67-year partnership he shared with his wife Bernice was the loving platform for everything he accomplished over the years. The love, encouragement, nurturing and support they provided to each other brought out the best in them both.
The Gordon Jewish Community Center is named for his family and he was a major supporter of Jewish life and institutions in Nashville.
He was born on January 5, 1929, in Crofton, Ky., a rural farm and mining community of 700 people. He was the son of Tillie and Ben Gordon. In their pursuit of the American Dream, the family ran a general store in Crofton which they operated seven days a week, sun up to sun down. They lived a simple life and his main source of entertainment and distraction was playing basketball. He excelled and ultimately was recruited and offered a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Kentucky by the legendary coach, Adolph Rupp. Upon graduation in 1951, Mr. Gordon was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He was discharged in 1954 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant and subsequently accepted a position in Nashville as a trainee with Harveys department store and continued his retail career as a merchandise manager at Cain-Sloan department store.
Mr. Gordon was one of the early players in the Nashville healthcare scene and took great pride in helping to establish Nashville as the healthcare capital of the world. He began his healthcare career in 1969 as co-founder of General Care Corp., an operator of acute care hospitals that was eventually listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). General Care was acquired by Hospital Corporation of America in 1980. In 1982, he co-founded Surgical Care Affiliates (SCA), an early pioneer in developing and operating outpatient surgical facilities. SCA was subsequently listed on the NYSE and was eventually acquired by HealthSouth Corp. in 1996, at which time Mr. Gordon became a member of the HealthSouth board of directors. He took great satisfaction in being a co-founder and building three major stock exchange listed healthcare companies, General Care Corp., Surgical Care Affiliates and HealthWise of America, a health maintenance organization. Later in his career, Mr. Gordon was asked to assume the Chairmanship of HealthSouth on an interim basis to assist the company in rebounding from a series of business challenges. At the time of his death, he was Chairman of The Gordon Group.
Joel loved people and was a mentor to many. His door was always open. He found immense joy in the success of others. Whether it was supporting his family members, employees of his companies, community members seeking insight and counsel or his favorite athletic teams, you couldn't ask for a better cheerleader. Throughout his adult life, Joel made it a priority to devote time, energy and resources to the community and institutions which had so enriched the lives of him and his family. Among his many national and community activities and honors were his induction into the University of Kentucky Business School Hall of Fame, and his 2005 recognition by the university as a distinguished graduate, one of only 333 in the history of the
university. Joel served as a past director of Genesco, Inc., SunTrust Bank, First Tennessee Bank and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, where he served as Chairman of the Downtown Redevelopment Committee which formulated plans for many of the changes to the area we see today. He was an early graduate of Leadership Nashville. He also served as a director of National Conference of Community Justice, University School of Nashville, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt Medical Center and Cheekwood. He served as President of the Jewish Community Center, which bears his name. Joel and Bernice were the recipients of The Jewish Federation President's Award. He was Chairman of the Board of The Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where he received the Applause Award in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the arts.
Joel was a founding member of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of The United Way and was honored with the Alexis de Tocqueville Award recognizing his leadership in philanthropy. He was designated Businessman of the Year as well as receiving the National Medallion for Entrepreneurship by the Beta Gamma Sigma Chapter of Vanderbilt University. Joel received the Spirit of America award from the College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University. He was the recipient in 2005 of the Joe Kraft Community Award from The Community Foundation. Joel was a founding member of the Nashville Health Care Council. In recognition of contributions to the healthcare industry and his role in helping to establish Nashville as the healthcare capital, he was inducted into the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame in 2017. Joel was devoted to his community, devoted to his professional life and most of all, devoted to his family. A special thanks to Dr. David Allen and Dr. Jeffrey Eskind for the loving care and compassion over the years and to the special team of caregivers who took such wonderful care of him during his recent health challenges. He and his family are longtime members of Congregation Ohabai Sholom. memorial contributions can be made to the Gordon Jewish Community Center or The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, 3833 Cleghorn Avenue, Suite 400, Nashville, TN 37215
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