In Memoriam: Leon Gorman 1934–2015

Like many in Maine, we were saddened to read of the passing of Leon Gorman, grandson of L.L.Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean and either president or chairman of the company for 46 years. Outside of L.L.Bean, Gorman was known for his charitable pursuits. For this remembrance, we turned to Gorman’s friend Mark Swann, executive director of Portland’s Preble Street resource center for homelessness, hunger, and poverty.

An image I will always carry in my heart is of Leon working the grill at the Preble Street soup kitchen. Every Wednesday for 12 years, rain or shine, Leon would be ready at 7 a.m. to flip 400 eggs. The grill at Preble Street is an assignment you have to earn, and Leon earned it, working his way up from dishwasher to food prep to the coveted grill position. He loved it there.

I met Leon at a Bowdoin College event in the 1990s, but the first time I really talked with him was in 2001, when we asked him and his wife, Lisa, for help when Preble Street was building a center for homeless and runaway teens. I was moved by how much they wanted to know about the teens, about what had happened in their lives to lead them to the streets, and about how “we” could help these kids. They asked how “we” could help, which I’ll never forget. They already felt they were part of the solution.

Not long after, Leon filled out a volunteer application and started his long volunteer stretch in our kitchen. He did whatever was asked of him, winning admiration from staff and other volunteers for actually pulling the grill from the wall after breakfast to scour away the built-up grease. Not a fun job, and not one anyone else had volunteered to do. Thanking him, I once used a favorite line of my father’s: “A job worth doing is a job worth doing well.” Leon loved that line. It was certainly the hallmark of how he did his “day job,” and it summed up his approach to life, his ideals, and his sense of purpose.

It’s really something when you think about it: One of the most successful and influential people in Maine, and here he was, scrubbing grease at a soup kitchen, sharing so much of himself with the poorest, least powerful, and most easily forgotten people in the state.

What made Leon a great man was that he was such a good man. — Mark Swann