Folks in Essex and Franklin Counties, but in Clinton County most of all, are mourning the death last Wednesday of beloved historian, author, and media legend Gordie Little, undoubtedly one of the North Country’s best friends ever. Media legend? How else does one define the impact of 36 years on the radio, followed by nearly two decades of newspaper columns for Plattsburgh’s Press-Republican and recent columns in Denton Publications, while also hosting weekly programs on cable-access television? And through it all, he promoted the entire region at every opportunity.
Gordie wasn’t just on the radio: for thousands every day, he was radio. Shortly after joining WIRY in Plattsburgh back in the early 1960s, he was voted the top DJ among 12 competitors from area stations, earning for him a Golden Mike award. The fans had spoken, and he never looked back, making radio his life. The morning birthday show on WIRY became a regional classic. Many of us heard our birthdays announced back then, and heard Gordie do the same for our own children decades later. Families woke up to his voice daily, learning all the local news as we readied for school or work. (And he was always there, working more than 30 years before throat surgery forced him to take his first sick days.) Listeners will never forget his humorous, self-deprecating catch phrase: “Gordie Little – Who’s He?”
The impact of that contact with everyday folks was immeasurable, but when his radio career ended, Gordie reinvented himself and expanded his reach, touching tens of thousands with his newspaper columns—“Small Talk” for the Press-Republican and “Little Bits” for Denton Publications—and the cable-access television show, “Our Little Corner.” Behind the camera most of the time was the creator-owner-operator of Home Town Cable, Calvin Castine, himself a local legend. They interacted frequently during broadcasts, but the face of most shows was Gordie, who famously digressed frequently during interviews, injecting recollections from his own varied and colorful past.
While it hardly seems possible, his television fame may have surpassed that of his radio persona, introducing a wide audience to craftspeople, politicians, business owners (from home businesses to large corporations), authors, actors, historians, singers, artists, locals who lived history, and so many more, most of whom also became his personal friends. Add to that the wide range of events he and Calvin covered together—parades, local plays, news events, bazaars, fundraisers, Honor Flights for veterans, business events, field days, Relay for Life, historical events (again, the list goes on and on)—allowing busy local folks and many natives who have moved elsewhere to remain informed and involved in the community. That’s what Calvin and Gordie (and Gordie’s predecessor, the wonderful Bob Venne) have done—they’ve helped build and enhance the community that is the North Country by sharing so much of it with everyone. In the process, they created a vast and valuable historical archive.
Gordie’s friends were everywhere, including Facebook, where they numbered nearly 4,600. In local media, a dozen former and present politicians expressed praise for a man they knew and admired. Decades of local newspapers from the past are peppered with notes of thanks from local citizens for his many good deeds and acts of kindness. He really made a difference.
Not many realize it, but by the time Gordie’s radio career ended in the mid-1990s, he had received about a half-dozen citizenship awards from various organizations, along with many other honors. Who knew that after all that, his second act would be just as amazing in newspapers, television, and writing books?
But Gordie was a big, strong, barrel-chested man who, at least in my eyes, never seemed to look or act his age. When I was younger, 70 seemed ancient, but Gordie was still full of zip when an accident took his life at the age of 79. He knew me as always being monumentally busy, but his own life was just as hectic. More than once I put the question to him: “How can I ever complain about aches and pains or being tired if a guy old enough to be my father is running around all the time, excited about his next book or his next interview?” He’d just flash that big, familiar grin of his and say, “I love it!”
Several years ago, Jill and I (as Bloated Toe Publishing) partnered with Gordie in producing a children’s book. Periodically, we settled up with him financially, so in addition to our normal interactions, Gordie came to the house every few months to exchange dollars and sales numbers. With the two of us gabbing about stuff, those visits turned into long conversations that I enjoyed so much, I began “scheduling” them, asking him to pick a day with a few hours free so we could just sit and talk in the living room. It was always a wild ride, bouncing from sports to religion, TV, his background story, politics, history, books, ghosts, our families, hypnotism, and whatever else came up. Good times, for sure.
Jill and I did a number of shows with Calvin and Gordie over the years, something we always looked forward to, joining them in our basement family room for the filming, and touching base before and after on a range of subjects. Gordie was always an optimist: no matter how your day was going, it always seemed better after a visit with him. That alone is a wonderful legacy, but he leaves so much more—a large and loving family, literally thousands of friends and admirers, a huge collection of historically valuable items (thanks to his self-confessed packrat nature), and a valued body of work in his columns, magazine articles, and broadcasts, many of them now historical treasures.
Comments that they “were so young” or “gone too soon” are heard when someone dies in their twenties, forties, or even sixties. That’s how I feel about losing Gordie at 79. Maybe it’s the suddenness, or the nature of how he died, but I wasn’t ready for him to go. He loved life, and meant so much to so many people. Jill and I didn’t see him daily like his family did, or work with him constantly like Calvin has for so long, but his sudden passing has permeated our lives with a sadness that’s been hard to shake. I’m sure that across the area, there are thousands more feeling the same way. We’ve lost someone who’s irreplaceable: a historian, writer, author, North Country booster, a great family man, deeply devoted husband, and, as Gordie himself said so often of others, “a dear, dear friend.”
Photos: Gordie Little and Larry Gooley displaying their recent books (November 2015 at the Clinton County Museum); advertisement featuring Gordie’s catch phrase (Press-Republican, 1968); the opening to a Press-Republican article by staff writer Joe LoTemplio (1988)