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Large crowd pays tribute to a gracious woman

Tuesday, May 02, 2000

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Love, beauty and order were the keystones on which Anita "Nicki" Gordon built her world.

  Mourners follow the casket of Anita Gordon to her place of burial in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery yesterday. (Post-Gazette)

Gifted at photography, needlework and interior design, Gordon filled her home and the homes of her family and many friends with art or gifts chosen with her impeccable taste.

Blessed with a knack for organization, she was the one to whom relatives or chums turned when they had a project to complete or a bash to plan, knowing that she'd relish attending to every last detail.

So how could a woman who brought such graciousness and direction to so many lives lose her own in an ugly, senseless burst of violence?

That was the question yesterday in the minds and hearts of more than 400 mourners who packed the pews and wept in the aisles of a Shadyside chapel while they grieved for Nicki Gordon.

"We have so many questions with no answers. The question, 'Where is God?' echoes in our minds," Rabbi Neal Scheindlin told the overflowing crowd in the Ralph Schugar Chapel yesterday.

"But as we pay tribute and say an untimely farewell, I must affirm my belief and my faith that God is present, that God is with us."

Gordon, 63, was shot to death Friday in her Mt. Lebanon home. She was the first of five people to die in a shooting rampage that spread from the South Hills to Center, Beaver County.

    More coverage:

For complete Post-Gazette coverage, click here.


Richard Baumhammers, the 34-year-old son of Gordon's next-door neighbors, has been arrested on homicide and other charges in those attacks.

Scheindlin presides over Beth El Congregation of the South Hills in Scott, where Gordon was a member and where the gunman in Friday's rampage also defaced the entrance by firing shots through the doors and daubing a pair of swastikas on the bricks.

So many people came to pay respects to Gordon yesterday that the line snaked through the wood-beamed Tudor sanctuary, out the front door and down the sidewalk. The 1 p.m. service was delayed until nearly 2 p.m. to allow mourners to pass by her fern-banked wood casket and to speak to her husband, Dr. Sanford A. Gordon, her three daughters, Linda and Annette Gordon and Dr. Nancy Gordon Goldberg; and her sister, Seima Horvitz.

Invoking the words of Moses, Scheindlin reminded mourners that, while God has revealed many things to human beings, he has chosen to leave other things hidden.

Humans cannot understand why Gordon and the other victims were attacked Friday, he said. But while they question and abhor the violence that ended Gordon's life, humans must continue to trust God and to remember how she lived -- as a woman who demonstrated deep love for her family, her pets, her friends and her Jewish faith.

"There was no place in Nicki's heart for hate, no place for evil," said Rabbi Stephen Steindel of Beth Shalom Congregation in Squirrel Hill, who preceded Scheindlin at Gordon's temple. "We are not gathered here to speak of evil or violence. [We remember] her love and concern for all, her civility and her proud, Jewish continuity."

Steindel and Gordon's niece, Julie Rosenthal, recalled Gordon's skill at planning every detail of vacation itineraries, beautiful family parties and synagogue projects, even the family income taxes.

Whether she was a tourist halfway around the world or shopping for groceries a few miles from home, she never failed to befriend the person beside her. Then she kept in touch with her ever-broadening circle by sending notes, photographs or tasteful gifts she'd made or chosen, they said.

During the recitation of the 23rd Psalm, mourners wiped tears from their eyes.

But there were smiles, too, when Rosenthal told of how relatives vied each year to submit the cover photograph for the personalized "Gordon Family Calendar" that Nicki Gordon produced.

Rabbi Chuck Diamond of Beth Shalom also drew laughter when he recalled one of Gordon's rare lapses in planning. She'd ordered an oversized challah, or egg bread, to be cut at the head table during her daughter Nancy's wedding reception last May.

The challah was so long that it had to be carried by two people and fit with difficulty in her car, Diamond said.

No problem, until Gordon discovered that she couldn't get the challah inside through the revolving door of the hotel where the wedding was to be held.

"We have been shaken to the core. We cannot help but question our ability to go on," he said. "But now we must [truly] live each day. We must hug our children, call our parents, see our friends.

"There are good people in the world and Nicki was such a person. We must live our lives like Nicki lived hers."

She was buried in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.

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