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Former Portland City Commissioner Charles Jordan Dies At Age 77

Charles Jordan in 1976 as Portland City Commissioner - Courtesy City of Portland

Charles Jordan in 1976 as Portland City Commissioner - Courtesy City of Portland

Former Portland City Commissioner and Parks Director Charles Jordan died at his home this morning at the age of 77 after a lengthy illness. Jordan will be remembered for his groundbreaking work in growing the Portland Parks and Recreation department.

He was Portland’s first African-American City Commissioner.

Forty-four new parks and natural areas were created under his tenure.  He was the force behind several Portland landmarks such as Pioneer Courthouse Square, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, Delta Park, Southwest Community Center and many more public projects.

He is also remembered for his many quotations including “Today you follow, but tomorrow you will be expected to lead.”

Charles Jordan with his son Dion at an Alzheimer's Disease walk-a-thon.

Charles Jordan with his son Dion at an Alzheimer’s Disease walk-a-thon.

Courtesy Dion Jordan

His son, Dion Jordan, says his father’s lifelong commitment to conservation and parks was inspired by his upbringing on the Agua Caliente Indian reservation in California and the values he learned from friends and neighbors there. Charles Jordan was an early advocate of making the conservation movement more diverse and inclusive.

“As he moved off the reservation and into the city, he realized how few people of color were involved in the movement. And he knew that in order to really make an impact that everybody had to be involved,” his son says. 

Jordan says that while his dad may be best known for his work in parks and the environmental movement, he would want to be remembered for his service to other people.

“At the end of the day, it was about people. Treating people right, doing the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. Everything else came out of that.”

Charles Jordan hugs his son Dion after the two of them spoke at a Men's Day event at a Portland Church.

Charles Jordan hugs his son Dion after the two of them spoke at a Men’s Day event at a Portland Church.

Courtesy Dion Jordan

He was also a devoted family man who loved basketball and never missed his son’s games. “I don’t care what meetings he had on the calendar, everything was around making sure that he was in the stands when I was playing,” Dion Jordan says.
Jordan says when he was 7 or 8, he called his father, interrupting a televised City Council meeting, to get permission to join a basketball game after school was out. “The question I asked him was, dad are you busy? And he said son, I’m never too busy for you. That set the stage, early on in life, that regardless of how important he was to everyone else, that I was his number one,” he remembers.

The family will hold a small private service for him, and says it is planning a larger celebration of his life for the community to attend in May. “I truly believe it’s not as a goodbye, but as a see you later,” Jordan says.

Charles Jordan being interviewed at the dedication of the Charles Jordan Community Center.

Charles Jordan being interviewed at the dedication of the Charles Jordan Community Center.

Courtesy Dion Jordan

City of Portland Press Release

Beloved former Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) Director and City Commissioner Charles Jordan passed away in his home this morning after a long illness.

Charles Jordan was a pioneer for Portland Parks & Recreation, and implemented lasting and landmark programs for all Portlanders. Jordan’s legacy has and continues to enhance the lives of current and future generations. Just a few hallmarks of Jordan’s tenure include popular PP&R programs such as the free annual series of Movies in the Park, plus innumerable youth initiatives. Jordan gained public support for critical parks bond and levy measures. He oversaw 44 new Portland parks and natural areas during his tenure. Charles Jordan’s leadership, commitment to Portland, and innovative policies are anchors of Portland Parks & Recreation’s mission and philosophy now and going forward.

“Charles Jordan is established in history as one of the heroes of Portland,” says Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “His many contributions to our community live on, and his memory will inspire others to reach beyond ordinary goals to achieve greatness. “Charles Jordan epitomized the best in community-building leadership in Portland.”

“Charles Jordan was one of my heroes,” says City Commissioner Nick Fish, a former Parks Commissioner. “One of the greatest moments in my public service was honoring Charles at the dedication of the Charles Jordan Community Center in the Portsmouth neighborhood. He was a national leader in the parks movement. Today is a sad day for the Portland Parks & Recreation family.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has ordered all City flags to fly at half-mast from today through Saturday, April 12.

“As Portland’s first African-American City Commissioner and Portland Parks & Recreation Director, Charles was the champion for much of what we love about Portland’s parks,” says Mayor Hales. “Charles Jordan was most of all about access to parks and recreation programs for everyone. He was passionate about that principle, and the rest of us caught the inspiration from him.”

“Charles Jordan inspired us all,” says PP&R Director Mike Abbaté. “His energy and positive attitude were contagious; he drew people to him and motivated people to help themselves, and their community. At Portland Parks & Recreation, Charles transformed us from a bureau to a family. We continue that tradition even today among all “Parkies”. His loss leaves a hole in our hearts, but Charles’ legacy lives on.”

Jordan’s memorial service will be private, for family only.

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