CONWAY — If Kennett High School ever had a Mount Rushmore of teachers and coaches — Mr. (Gordon) Mann would certainly be on it.
The lifelong educator died peacefully at the age of 94 and didn't Mr. Mann pack a lifetime of living into those years. He taught and coached at Kennett High from 1950-1983; traveled to 73 countries; led tours around the world for Gayle Baker Travel; met people and never forgot their names; and was loyal to those who knew and loved him.
“Not only was he such a special person, but to me, he's one of the legends of Kennett,” longtime friend Gary MacDonald said. “The thing with Gordon is he was caring. He was humble. And he was exacting. He was just one of those types.”
He was always Mr. Mann to me. He was the third teacher I met at Kennett High in the fall of 1979. He was my math teacher and had a way of explaining things that made sense, that’s the best way I can describe him. Although he told me numerous times over the last 30 years to call him Gordon, it never felt right. He was Mr. Mann.
“It was always Mr. Mann,” fellow longtime friend Sut Marshall said smiling. “Finally, he had to get after me, I was probably 40 at the time and he said, ‘You can call me Gordon.’ And sometimes it's still easy, and I don’t know about you, but it would slip and you’d say, ‘Mr. Mann.’ It wasn't because you had to salute, it was just that the respect was that it was Mr. Mann.”
John Lord, who played basketball under Mr. Mann at Kennett and then during his senior year when Ossipee voted to send its students to Kingswood Regional (Mann and Lord led the Knights to the state championship game that year), agreed.
“I could never call him Gordon, no way,” he said by phone Tuesday.
Mr. Mann was an incredible basketball coach, and no one prepared their team better. While at KHS, he coached junior high, junior varsity and varsity football, basketball, baseball and softball. He was inducted into the Kennett High Sports Hall of Fame in 1994 and was also inducted into the New Hampshire Coaches Association Hall of Fame along with The Manchester Union Leader’s Coaches Hall of Fame.
About 10 years ago, I sought to have the new Kennett High gymnasium named after him. When I approached Mr. Mann, he was surprised and humbled to be considered for the honor and accepted. Twelve hours later, he phoned me at 7 a.m. and said he hadn’t slept a wink because he didn’t feel he was deserving of such recognition and gracefully declined.
Marshall and MacDonald both viewed Mr. Mann as a part of their families. They shared some memories of him during a 70-minute visit to Abbott’s Dairy on July 6.
“When I first came to the valley in the early 70s, Gordon had some of us who had played basketball down to scrimmage against the varsity for the preparation for the playoffs,” MacDonald recalled. “I went down along with Lynn Presby and others, and this was in 1972 or ’73. He wanted us to run certain defenses. So we were out there and we were running these defenses. We're all volunteering our time to come down in the afternoon and helping them out. I’m thinking I don't know, Gordon well, but all of a sudden he starts screaming at us because we’re not running the right defense. I’m thinking to myself, my God, we’re here volunteering and Gordon’s yelling at us. You know, looking back, that's why I say he was exacting — he wanted the best.”
“He expected it from himself and from the people he mentored,” added Marshall.
“As time went along, we got very close to Gordon,” said MacDonald. “And he became actually a part of our family in many ways, and he spent Christmas Eves with us.”
One Christmas Eve, without much coaxing, the MacDonald Family — Gary and Karen, his wife, and their children, Alison and Trevor — got Mr. Mann to sit on Santa’s lap.
“This is a part that I think a lot of students don't know that he had this other side,” MacDonald said. “But there's a little twinkle in his eye and I sort of coaxed him, and said, ‘Gordon come on, everyone’s sat on Santa and you haven’t,’ so he did.”
“He was shy, but he traveled the world,” MacDonald said of Mr. Mann, who ventured to 73 different countries and some, like New Zealand, multiple times. “And he had friends everywhere. The list of people he had contacts with around the world was incredible. Everywhere he went, he befriended people. He was just really a selfless type person and he just befriended and people went on trips to hike with him.”
MacDonald recalled one trip with the family out to Colorado to hike with Mr. Mann after his children were out of college.
“I said, ‘Guys, Gordon wants to be ready to go at 7:30 a.m. I know we're getting in late,’ we'd gone to a (Colorado Rockies) baseball game and stuff, but I said we need to be ready at 7:30,’ and they knew Gordon, so they said, ‘Yep, we're all set.’ So the next morning, the kids are up. I mean, we're half awake, but we're all set. So we're in the kitchen and lunches are made and we’re ready to go out the door. And I said Gordon, ‘You must be really surprised. I mean we are set to go at 7:30 a.m. go out the door.’ And he looks at me just deadpan. Absolutely. With his typical Gordon expression, said, ‘Gary, we should be at the car at 7:30 a.m.’”
MacDonald also went on an 11-day trip to Glacier National Park in Montana with Mr. Mann and others.
“We hiked for 11 days, and it was amazing,” he said “Before we left, he sent me an envelope and it had every trail listed that we were going on along with a description of each. And when we got up there, he again when we’d pass people, park rangers. ‘Hey, Frank, how are you? Good to see you again.’ He knew people everywhere and he was shy, but just a person who was willing to share and people just were attracted to him — a whole different approach than what people might think.”
“He’d go on these hikes,” Marshall recalled, “and they’d have a ranger along. They’d stumble over a particular flower or something, and Gordon wouldn’t to one-upmanship the guy, but he’d say, ‘That’s a Colorado Columbine, not what you said.’ It got to be whee pretty soon everyone was looking to Gordon instead of the ranger when they came across something.”
Mr. Mann hiked into his 90s.
“We’d go for hikes in Alton, Gilford, Meredith and at Castle in the Clouds,” Lord said. “We'd see people on the trails and they were amazed that Gordon was 90 years old and couldn’t believe he was hiking. I'd ask him if he wanted to take a rest and he’d always responded, ‘Nope.’ He just kept going, one foot in front of the other. He was determined not to give into his age.”
Marshall shared the first time he met Mr. Mann.
“The way I remember it, I met him in 1950,” he said. “I think that he came (to Kennett) in the spring of 1950. I think I met him in the fall of 1950. And he had tryouts for seventh- and eighth-grade basketball. (Laughing) And I don't know why I went because I wasn't gifted or talented. I just sat in the bleachers didn't say anything, didn't do anything. And the other younger kids were running all over the gym, just fooling around.
“I just sat there. I was scared of him. I just sat there ad I didn't say a word. And he cut everybody but me. He told me I could stay and I said, ‘I can stay,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, because you didn't say anything. And you didn't cause any problems. So you can stay.’ That was 70 years ago.”
Marshall credits Mr. Mann with “one phone call that changed his life.”
“You’ve heard about a phone call possibly changing someone’s life, well Gordon’s phone call changed my life,” he said.
Marshall got that life-changing phone call in the fall of 1964.
“Gordon called me the Friday before Labor Day,” Marshall, who had graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in dairy science that spring, said. “I didn’t know what I was going to. He said, ‘Sut, have you ever thought about teaching and coaching?” He said Alton is looking for a math teacher and a coach, and they start school on Tuesday.”
Marshall, who had Mr. Mann as his math teacher all four years at Kennett, interviewed for the position over the weekend and started that Tuesday.
“Gordon’s phone call probably altered my life more than anything,” Marshall said. “I ended up taking that job, staying in Durham and that’s where I met Margaret. Gordon was much more than a friend, he was like family to us.”
Marshall taught at the 78-student school for three years, coaching the boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams. Then he came to Kennett and taught seventh-grade math and was Mr. Mann’s JV basketball coach.
Lord said he never played for a coach who was more prepared to face an opponent.
“We’d have pages of information on our opponents,” he said. “We knew where a kid shot from, what his strengths were. He was very attentive to detail. He was very motivated and he pushed us hard, but he always taught us to respect our opponents and each other. He never wanted any accolades, but he was a great coach, a great friend and I miss him dearly.”
Paul MacMillan, who taught with Mr. Mann at Kennett High and valued their friendship.
“What can I say about Gordon Mann,” he said. “He was the ultimate teacher, coach and mentor to me. Very professional in every aspect when it came to teaching and coaching. I never heard him speak an ill word towards anyone. He believed if you could not say something good or constructive about someone then you say nothing at all.
“He took me under his wing as a brand new teacher to teaching and introduced me to George Davidson, Karl Siedenstuecker, Hollis Robbins, Dick Stevens and Ginny Small. I was so fortunate to have so many excellent mentors as a new teacher. Gordon was the master at planning and using his time and excellent at organizing. Not a moment was wasted in the classroom, on the court or on the field. In fact, he even did this when I traveled with him to Switzerland and Colorado.
“When we took on the athletic director's job I was the athletic director and Gordon was my assistant,” MacMillan said, smiling. “Our office looked like The Odd Couple's office. Gordon's side of the office — everything was neatly placed and organized. My side, not so much, papers and books everywhere. I cannot imagine what Gordon was thinking walking into that office every day and looking at my style of organization.
“Gordon had a tough exterior but he would do anything to help a kid. If you wanted help or extra time after practice he was always willing to stay as long as the students or athlete wanted to practice. He was a class coach and well respected around the state. He also led a very strong math department that was well respected around the state.”
Sut’s brother, Pit, who attended Harvard, said his freshman math class was “a refresher” to what he had learned in Mr. Mann’s math class his senior year at KHS.
Teri Brooks, who also taught at Kennett had nothing but praise for Mr. Mann.
“As a young teacher I was in awe of him,” she said. “What a great teacher, coach and just a kind person he was.”
Sally Olson of Conway remembered Mr. Mann fondly.
“Gordon was my Algebra I and Algebra II teacher, then years later, he was our son Dave’s math teacher and basketball coach,” she said. “Our son Matt was fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling with him and a group of three other Kennett boys for NCAA basketball games in North Carolina and camping and hiking out west.
“In 1990, he asked us if we would like to go to Switzerland with him and Shum Marshall,” said Olson. “The only condition was that I had to call him Gordon and not my usual Mr. Mann. I looked at him and said, ‘But I can’t call you Gordon, Mr. Mann!’ He was a person that deserved that kind of respect. I eventually learned to call him Gordon and later on we spent a week in Colorado hiking with him. I will always cherish his monthly luncheons that he would organize for 20 to 25 of his other friends. This continued until COVID forced us all to isolate and we were only able to keep in touch by phone. Gordon made a positive impact on so many lives and he will be greatly missed.”
Mr. Mann went to work for Gayle Baker Travel and trips he led always sold out.
“Gordon was so specific,” said Gayle Baker. “In the office, if Gordon was going to do a trip, word got out and the next morning, ladies would show up wanting to take it.”
She added: He had a niche for life and remembered people all over the world. When he planned a trip, he budgeted for everything from travel to food, talks and luggage. And, if he had one penny left over, you got it back but most time he figured the trip right down to the last penny.”
Although Mr. Mann was shy and quiet, Baker said he “was a character,” and when they were in the office, they “always had a good time together. He always said to me, ‘Gayle, why don’t we do a trip together, I’ll take care of the people during the daytime and you take care of them at nighttime. He worked for me for a long time but we never did do that.”
Baker shared Mr. Mann was leading a trip in Russia when the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred in 1986.
“He had that group down to Siberia in no time,” she said. “I never had to worry about anything Gordon was doing. He loved to travel.”
Mr. Mann had an impact on people, young and old. Kennett graduate Mike Downs, who is now a school principal in Methuen, Mass., along with Steve Jones, Russ Matthews and Matt Olson,
“In my lifetime, I never met a person who had the grace, dignity and humility of Gordon Mann,” Downs shared by phone last week. “I was fortunate in my life to be part of the Gordon Mann summer hiking crew and was part of the last crew he ever took and was an example of his generosity of time and money. That summer and those hikes changed my life forever and his quiet, yet firm mentorship had a profound impact on me.”
He added: “The last time I saw him was prior to COVID and he was still as sharp as a tack and listening to him talk about hiking never got old. He is one of the few people in my life that no matter how many times we talked it was always great conversation. I would say the successes of his summer hiking crews are in part to his mentorship and guidance and I will never forget what he did for me and so many others.”
That was Mr. Mann.