Eugene "Gene" Gordon, a furniture industry executive who brought La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries to Northern California, died Saturday of pneumonia complications, his family said. He was 85.
Gordon was a respected retailing veteran who started as a juvenile furniture buyer for Montgomery Ward in Chicago during the 1950s. He rose to be a vice president of Wickes Building and Lumber and opened the first retail showroom for Wickes Furniture as company president.
He left the Midwest to join the executive team of Wickes Corp. in San Diego as senior vice president.
He was president of a subsidiary, Woodard Furniture in Michigan, when a corporate takeover of Wickes led him to retire early.
"Here I was 55 years old, (thinking), 'What am I going to do?' " he told The Bee in 1998. "I was really upset. Here I had all this experience, and no one wanted to take advantage of it. They were looking at 35- or 40-year-olds."
Gordon a longtime snow skier who was drawn to the Sierra Nevada moved to Sacramento and opened the region's first La-Z-Boy Showcase Shoppe in 1983 in a former Kinney shoe building at El Camino and Watt avenues.
Within two years, his store was the No. 1 La-Z-Boy furniture outlet in the country, said his daughter Elizabeth Reego.
"He knew that it takes more than putting a sign outside the building," said Ed Breining, La-Z-Boy regional vice president. "He did a good job representing the brand, advertising the product and taking care of the customers."
Gordon added two more La-Z-Boy stores and ran the company until he retired in 1994.
His daughter and son-in-law, James Reego, were granted a license to run the business and expanded to a total of seven outlets known as La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries in Northern California.
Eugene Noble Gordon climbed the ladder to success from humble beginnings. Born in 1926 in Memphis, Tenn., he grew up with a brother in a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago. His father sold encyclopedias, and his mother was a railroad worker.
He was drafted into the Army near the end of World War II and served stateside. He earned a business degree from Northwestern University in 1950 on the GI Bill.
He had three children with his wife of 56 years, Margaret. After retiring, he volunteered with a group of business executives who mentored entrepreneurs. He was an avid golfer and enjoyed taking online university courses.
Gordon built his success on hard work and sacrifice. He took few vacations, spent weeks traveling on business and "would come home at 7 or 8 at night and then go right into his office," his daughter said.
"He was part of that generation who lost friends in the war," she said. "He said that when you see so many people lose their lives at 18 or 19, you feel a responsibility to them to do well. He said, 'We came from nothing and had nothing, so we took risks.' "