Employee Portrait Gallery—Allan Gordon

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Al Gordon, center, assists Dick Backus, left, with the otter boards as they prepare to launch a trawl during an early 1970s Atlantis II cruise. Vaughan Bowen is at right. (WHOI Archives Photo)

 

“At an airport, my job is called ground control,” Dock Master Al Gordon says. Since 1999, Al has kept hundreds of vessels safely moving to and from the Iselin Pier and Dyer’s Dock on the WHOI waterfront. He coordinates fueling and crane work and oversees loading, installation, removal, and storage of science equipment. He also keeps the waterfront space from becoming a storehouse for mislaid research gear.

This often means pairing rusting, sometimes crumpled science instruments with their owners. “Some of the stuff that I’d be inclined to take to the dump turns out to be a prized research tool,” he said, adding that moving things along is critical to his dockside goal of “keeping the clutter to a minimum.” This is especially true during hurricane season, when, he said, “an approaching storm requires a full-court press to remove every item from the pier.”

Now 62, Al was a 16-year-old sophomore at Falmouth High School when he was offered a summer job “washing dishes” (chemical glassware) in Vaughan Bowen’s lab. Except to attend Bates College in Maine and complete an 18-month stint in 1967–68 at a nuclear power center in Puerto Rico, he’s worked for WHOI continually since June 1958.

The high school summers in Bowen’s lab (spent measuring artificial radionuclides and trace elements in seawater) spurred Al to pursue a chemistry degree. After college, he returned to Bowen’s radiochemistry lab at WHOI, working both ashore and at sea. When Bowen retired in 1982, “I was about to be homeless,” Al said, “and I was advised to knock on every door at the Institution for work.”

The first door opened in the Ocean Engineering Department. Inspired by the work there, he began commuting to Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston for four years to earn another degree, this time in mechanical engineering design technology. The year he turned 45, he received the school’s medal of honor for “excellence in character and scholarship.”

Since then, Al has contributed to various science, administrative, and engineering programs at WHOI, including the Alvin Group, the Coastal Research Center, the hydrostatic high-pressure test facility, and the Deep Submergence Laboratory. His historic knowledge of the Institution, understanding of science, and mechanical and organizational skills all come in handy today for Al Gordon, dock master.

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