Erik Gerding’s dad might have helped build a city, but first and before all that, he was a beloved father, husband and granddad. And so this public memorial for him was a very private one. It didn’t celebrate the Brewery Blocks he helped build, the green revolution he helped spark, or even the theater that bears his name and bore witness to his goodbye. Those tributes had been paid.
No. This memorial was for Bob Gerding’s family, who filled the first row of the Gerding Theater in dowtown Portland, as the business, civic and political leaders filled the rest of the auditorium. The family had invited the community to share in their deeply personal memories of Bob, who died Aug. 18 at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer.
Stories about Bob from his children, his wife Diana, his grandchildren and his close friends and partners such as Dan Wieden and Mark Edlen filled the hour. By all telling, Bob was the kind of guy you wanted in your life, standing by your side to help build a city, or raise your children, or teach you how to fish even if the pole might be twice your size and you are barely bigger than the fish.
“This is my church,” Bob was quoted as saying at the beginning of the program whole scenes of him fishing in nature’s cathedral filled the room.
At the end, his son returned to the stage to perform When I Go Away, written by the great Levon Helm. The voice no longer faltering, Erik and his bandmates wiped away the somber mood with their righteous and rollicking song. The men and women in their Sunday best who had quietly filled the theater stood to clap as the band reminded them:
All my kin who love me
All my friends who care
Look beyond the dark clouds
We're gonna meet up there
At the reception afterward, where the university presidents and mayors and business chiefs mingled, there was talk of how impossible it will be to fill the gap left by Bob. Where would the next generation of leaders come from to help lead the city?
Portland may have lost a visionary businessman, a devoted philanthropist, a driving force for civic betterment, but there is a more important question than how to replace all that. How do you replace your fishing buddy?
Robin Doussard is the editor of Oregon Business.