If you happen to be grabbing coffee somewhere in Hendersonville and see an older gentleman with a wild shock of salt-and-pepper hair typing furiously on his laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve just met Marshall Gordon.
A former copywriter, Gordon spent decades masterminding catchy slogans and scripts in Chicago’s high-pressure advertising scene. Though he gave up the whole corporate schtick when he retired to the mountains in 2005, he still writes political commentaries and diary entries, typically in a local coffee establishment with a cup of java by his side.
“I have to keep my fingers moving across the keyboard,” the 86-year-old explains. “I have to stay busy.”
Gordon keeps himself entertained in more curious ways, though. That much is evidenced by the growing collection of lifelike Lego sculptures prominently displayed in his home office.
According to Gordon, this obsession with plastic building blocks began last year when he happened across an article in the Wall Street Journal about the complex Lego kits designed for adults — a relatively new development for the Danish company, which was founded in 1932. Intrigued, Gordon did some digging and found an intricate flower bouquet on the toymaker’s website. Though he had never played with Legos when he was younger, he thought the bouquet would be the perfect gift to present to his wife, Julie, on their 46th wedding anniversary. “So, I bought it and put it together,” says Gordon. “And that’s when I got hooked on Legos.”
In the months since, the Horse Shoe resident has assembled dozens of these meticulously detailed sculptures, the most painstaking being a 9,090-piece replica of the Titanic. “Oh golly, that gigantic thing took me four months to put together,” Gordon chuckles.
Other kits, like the 1,606-piece jazz quartet or the 2,336-piece Land Rover Classic Defender 90, are less tedious, only requiring a few weeks of work. Regardless, every project calls for a hearty dose of patience. If you don’t take your time and follow the instruction manual to a tee, you risk misplacing the tiny construction blocks.
And when that happens, the only way to right your wrong is to tear the whole thing down.
For most of us, a mishap of this magnitude would warrant four-letter expletives at best and wall-punching anger at worst. (The fact that hard-to-assemble pieces of IKEA furniture are referred to as “divorce makers” says a thing or two about our collective inability to deal with such snafus.) But after nearly a century on this earth, Gordon knows how to take the structural setbacks in stride.
“Sure, it can be frustrating when you have to start all over again,” he admits. “However, you just have to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.”
Gordon credits his tolerance for disappointment to the cutthroat advertising industry, where it isn’t uncommon for some Don Draper lookalike to scrap copy you have spent weeks wordsmithing. “That’s advertising,” Gordon says curtly. “You have to be able to rebound quickly.”
Decades as a professional cyclist also taught Gordon a thing or two about grit. “I competed on the national level until I was about 65 and then transitioned to more casual-type cycling,” he explains. But in 2012, Gordon made a comeback, training hard to lose 40 pounds to compete in the 13th annual American Bicycle Racing National Criterium Championships. (For the record, he crushed the 75-plus category and even pedaled past much younger contenders.)
Now nearing 90, Gordon is off the bike for good. However, he knows that the key to winning any race is, again, to “keep moving forward.” The same could be said for building Lego sculptures. “You have to concentrate and look at where you’re headed — never back,” he says.
Having fun is important, too. Legos are just toys, after all. “As we speak, I’m working on a replica of the Concorde aircraft,” says Gordon. “But I’ve also built lots of flower arrangements, some succulents, and even a grand piano. I’m a geek, so I just build what interests me.”