Yale '62 - Obituaries - Gordon R. Fairburn

Gordon R. Fairburn

Born: November 23, 1940
Died: April 25, 2000

Gordon Fairburn was born in New York City and prepared at Milton Academy. He was a History of Art major and a member of Berkeley where he played on the tennis team. He was also a member of the Elizabethan Club.

After graduation, Gordon enlisted in the Army and, having expressed an interest in languages, was assigned to study Hungarian for a year. He then served in intelligence and was stationed in Eastern Europe. After release from the Army in 1966, he began a career as a book editor at Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, focusing on books on language and the humanities. He became managing editor of Art/World, the monthly review of New York City art exhibits and events, in 1976 and served in that position until 1988.

He enrolled in the Yale Divinity School and received a master's degree here in 1989. He also wrote poetry during these introspective years. Six years of clinical training as a psychoanalyst-psychotherapist followed at the Westchester Institute in Mount Kisco, New York. Since 1990, Gordon had a practice as a psychoanalyst in New Canaan and Mount Kisco. Classmate Henry Babcock described Gordon as "having the unique ability to synthesize art, religion and psychotherapy," according to his widow Phoebe.

Always interested in music and the arts, he was at various times an officer and/or trustee of the New York Society Library, the New Canaan Library and the Weir Farm Trust. Gordon also was an accomplished pianist and was a member of the choir at St. Mark's Episcopal Church and of the Westchester Oratorio Society. His singing continued to sustain him and enrich others until his final illness left him too weak to attend.

Gordon lived in New Canaan since 1976, and he was a 50-year summer resident of Prouts Neck, Maine. He was survived by his wife of 37 years, Phoebe Pier Fairburn of New Canaan; two daughters, Ramsay P. Fairburn of Arlington, Virginia, and Phoebe F. Larson of Ojai, California; two sons, Arthur D. Fairburn of Fort Collins, Colorado, and James G. Fairburn of New York City; and a brother, David H. Fairburn of Greenwich, Connecticut.

In his contribution to our 25th Reunion Class Book, Gordon observed:

"While my work life may give the appearance of abrupt change, my family life may appear to have been rather more uniform. I am not the first nor, I suspect, the last to muse that appearances can be deceptive. From my point of view, life through work and life through family have been inner logic, not always immediately apparent, and each has been subject to irrational sometimes radical transformation."

Phoebe, whom he married in 1963, reports that Gordon lived an unconventional but wonderfully rich and thrilling life, equally devoted to his family and to his work. His light heart and good humor could bring joy to any situation. "In the most varied of circumstances he would burst into song. Whether guitar, opera, choir or simple song, Gordon participated with enthusiasm," she wrote.

Gordon was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996 but recovered sufficiently after surgery for two years to participate in his two daughters' weddings and brighten his family's life until the end. In Phoebe's words: "Looking at the whole of Gordon's life, his varied careers and his enjoyment of friends and his deep concern for family, one could say his life was a living example of what he articulated to me during the last weeks of his life, when so much was slipping away, 'There is one thing that matter above all else,' he said, 'The most important thing is love.'"