September 8, 2021

James Edward “Jim” Gordon

September 5, 1946 – September 2, 2021

Jim Gordon—lover of life, colorful jokes, and well-cooked Nebraska steaks*—made his last, largely irreverent gesture on September 2, 2021.  (*Also: public service, Nebraska football, driving fast and music from the 50s & 60s.)

Jim broke the mold upon his entrance into the world on September 5, 1946. His parents, Robert “Merle” Gordon and Sarah “Sally” Gordon, had four children: Connie, Janet, Sandra and baby boy Jim.

Growing up, Jim attended Randolph Elementary, Lefler Junior High and Lincoln High School, where he served as manager of the football team (his mom wouldn’t let him play football for fear he’d be hurt!). Jim’s other odd jobs included working on the Breslow dairy farm baling hay and helping with the herd; delivering newspapers; and working at Campbell’s Nursery. He was a Regent’s Scholar recipient and attended UNL; however, he liked to say that for his first foray into higher education, he majored in playing pool and partying. This resulted in him being placed on academic probation, which led him to take a break from college and work full-time for the railroad. That lasted about six months, at which point he lost his college deferment and was drafted into the Army. He always made a point of noting it was the United States Army, not some other country’s military!

Jim and his best friend from high school, Rick Shaffer, pulled low numbers in the draft. They knew they would be called to serve and decided they’d make a road trip to Mexico before they were inducted.  While there, they met a kind woman who was a street vendor. She asked about their trip and they  told her this was their “last hurrah”  before their induction. She had lost a son in the military and gave them each a St. Christopher’s medal (patron saint of travelers for safe travel and protection) with the caveat they have the medals blessed by “their priest” before they were drafted. Jim, always gracious, accepted the medal and thanked her, not telling her he was Jewish. When Jim and Rick returned to Lincoln, they visited Rick’s priest who was happy to bless the medals for the young, soon-to-be soldiers. Jim always wore that St. Christopher’s medal, along with a Star of David and a mezuzah, around his neck from that day in 1966.

A recipient of the Purple Heart, Jim served in the Army’s First Air Cavalry Division and was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for participating in more than 30 combat assaults. Thanks to years of target practice with his dad, Jim earned the Army’s highest marksmanship ranking of “expert” during his military service. He was wounded in Vietnam in 1967 and spent 17 months in the hospital recovering from those wounds. While surgeons were able to save his right leg, the injuries required Jim to walk with a cane. The cane was, perhaps, Jim’s second-most recognized characteristic, behind his notorious mustach

When Jim returned to Lincoln, he tried college again, earning a bachelor’s degree from UNL in 1972 as a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. While he earned a law degree in 1974, he had already entered the private practice of law as a certified senior law student in 1973. He was a practicing mediator and attorney until retiring in 2016, when he decided to give politics a go and run for the Nebraska Legislature.

In addition to his law practice, Jim was passionate about helping people through eleemosynary work. (Jim had quite an extensive vocabulary and would use words like ‘eleemosynary’ without batting an eye.) He was active in many civic organizations, including serving as National President and Chair of the Board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America. Locally, Jim was an active member and/or lead of many boards—the Child Advocacy Center, Mediation Center, Legal Aid of Nebraska, Nebraskans for Public TV, Lincoln Children’s Zoo, Leadership Lincoln, Foster Care Review Board, TADA Productions, and the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board—to name just a few. (We hope you aren’t bored from reading that truncated list!).

Jim was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Connie, and several pets, most notably his Golden Retriever, Jessie. Jim and his beloved wife, Karen Kilgarin, share three daughters: Micala (Robert) Tessman practices law in Minneapolis; Shannon (Lapo) Torrini is a writer and corporate communications manager in Stamford, CT; Celeste (Sean Brennan) Torrence is a nurse in Lawrence. Jim and Karen have four grandchildren: Yvette & Simonne Tessman, Quentin Torrini, and Scout Shipman.

Although we are sad that Jim has signed off on a life “generally well lived and with few regrets,” we remember him fondly and know that he is kicking up gold dust with Connie, Merle and, of course, Sally, who surely greeted him with a fabulous hat on her head and a big smile on her face. Hopefully, he is also quite pleased with, and amused by, this exceedingly long obituary.

One way to honor Jim would be for you to go have a big cup of coffee (Jim drank extra-large mochas or coffee with far too much flavored creamer) with a friend and shoot the breeze about his antics or play a harmless prank on some unsuspecting sap.

A celebration of life will be held when it is safe to do so. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Lincoln Zoo, the Mediation Center, TADA Productions, Child Advocacy Center and/or Legal Aid of Nebraska.

“As my father planted before me, so do I plant for my children.”

The service will be available by livestream on September 10th, 2021 at 11:00 a.m.


  1. “Another Lincoln High Job Well Done.”

  2. Jim Gordon’s laugh could be heard around the world. It was infectious, heart lifting and smile inducing. I loved that man for being the perfect match for my friend Karen and for making the world a better place. I loved his moustache, his style, his wit, his caring advocacy and … well, just about everything about him. It breaks my heart that instead of wishing him a happy birthday today, I must say God speed, good friend. RIP.

  3. our deep sadness is sent to our family from the Shapos- unfortunately our health has prevented us from being there with all of you we sincerely hope that is that we can continue communications a with all of you.. all of our sadness will be with us for a very long time

  4. Kimberly and I want to extend our condolences to Jim’s entire family and also Shannon for reaching out to me to share some of my thoughts for her memory book and also sending out the link so we could view the service since we couldn’t be there. Jim was an incredible friend and when we would get together when I would come back to Lincoln, it’s as if our lives picked up as if we just saw each other yesterday. Thank you Jim for allowing me to be part of your life. It was one life definitely well lived. Rest in peace, with sympathy Gary & Kimberly Kuklin and the Kuklin family.

  5. Jim was a party in progress. Lincoln, in the world, is the less for his passing.

  6. So sorry to hear of Jim’s passing but know he enjoyed life to it’s fullest.

  7. Quando ho conosciuto Jim nel 2013 ho capito subito la splendida persona che era, apprendo ora della sua scomparsa e ne sono profondamente dispiaciuto, porgo tutte le mie più sentite condoglianze alla famiglia, un caro saluto Filippo Torrini

  8. Hey Karen and family,

    Jim was a mediator friend, fellow unsuccessful Legislative candidate (due to the scurrilous bs of the NRP) and great husband to a long time friend Karen. Loved the guy and his laugh and how he supported so many worthy causes as a first rate lawyer and human. Will miss Jim greatly!

  9. Jim’s passing leaves a big hole in my life. We laughed our way through Randolph Elementary, endured Millard Lefler, and became Links together. I was sad when I heard that the Army drafted him and sadder still when I heard of his injury. He returned to UNL a changed person and his personality and dedication led to his enormous success in life. Sally was a guiding light is his (and my) life. I will miss them both. God bless his family. I shall leave a flower at his gravesite whenever I return to Lincoln.

  10. Dear Karen and family
    It is a privilege and an honour to call Jim my friend. A truly wonderful wonderful man. I believe he saved my life for which I will be forever grateful. He will be truly missed but I am confident wherever he may be he will be smiling.
    God speed my friend RIP.
    The very best wishes thoughts and love come to you all from across the pond.
    Caroline, William and Chris


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