Remembering General Gordon Sullivan ’59

By Zackary Bennett, NU Senior Writer

Celebrating a life of service to others.

Image of United States Army General Gordon Sullivan ’59

Norwich University legend and retired United States Army General Gordon Sullivan ’59 passed away on Jan. 2. 

Few citizen-soldiers cemented themselves in both Norwich University’s and the world’s history in the fashion that Gordon has, being a shining example of Partridge’s citizen-soldier and spending his life in service.

Gordon first arrived on The Hill in 1955 from his Massachusetts home and spent his years in Northfield as a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, studying history, and serving fellow students in the mess hall. Still, he was not sure if military life was for him until he attended a summer camp at Fort Knox in 1958. “At that point I knew I wanted to get my commission and I wanted to serve. Once I figured that out, I knew I wanted to become a real soldier – and I did become a real soldier, and I loved it,” said Gordon when reflecting upon his story.

He began his historic career by commissioning as a second lieutenant of armor, eventually parlaying his education and experience into higher profile positions. Starting in 1983 he served as Assistant Commandant, United States Army Armor School; in 1987 as Deputy Commandant, United States Army Command and General Staff College; in 1988 as Commanding General, 1st infantry Division (Mechanized); and in 1990 as Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

Though some would be content, Gordon always sought more. He was promoted to his final position in the Army when President Bill Clinton assigned him the 32nd Army Chief of Staff. In 1993, Clinton would assign him the position of acting Secretary of the Army. Gordon is currently the only person to ever serve in both positions simultaneously.

Gordon retired from the Army in 1995. One of the country’s most renowned soldiers, Gen. Colin Powell, wrote of Gordon:

“General Sullivan is one of the Army’s most visionary leaders. His insights into leadership and human behavior are truly profound. His experience transforming the Army is a powerful story – one from which leaders in all walks of life can learn.”

Following his retirement, Gordon went into the private sector, though his itch for service never left. The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) had an open presidential position in 1998, and he found a home there. Gordon led the educational nonprofit for nearly 20 years until 2016. The AUSA promptly awarded him the Gen. George Catlett Marshall Medal, the organization’s highest award. 

“He went to AUSA because he wanted to help soldiers,” said Lori Sullivan, Gordon’s wife. “He was just a great, great person.”

His obsession with service was not limited to the military. Gordon loved Norwich and began on the Board of Trustees in 1995 before spending 13 years as its chair. His continuous efforts on behalf of our community were a constant beacon of light and hope for the future. Norwich’s Smithsonian-affiliated Sullivan Museum and History Center is named in his honor and highlights his passion and dedication for both history and Norwich University. “He loved history and gave so much of himself to Norwich,” said Lori.

Gordon continued serving even after stepping down from his positions on the Norwich board and the AUSA. He next led the board of the Army Historical Foundation as its chairman where he led efforts to build the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The museum opened in 2020 and is the only museum that focuses on the history of the U.S. Army.

Few individuals have their spirits interwoven into Norwich University’s fabric like Gordon does. His relentless urge to serve others made him a household name for anyone who has walked on The Hill. Mention of his name on campus evokes strong responses from those in the Norwich community today, though he left his trustee position in 2016. Whether presenting during the Todd Lecture Series or simply shaking hands and sharing stories, he consistently found ways to engage with our community. 

“For at least a year he was Distinguished Leader in Residence. They had a title for him where he went up there and spent time with the faculty and students,” said Lori. “I think that was someplace where the students and faculty really got to know Gordon and know that he gave so much of himself to every person. Every person was special to him.”

“He was a huge intellect and a brilliant guy who was extremely humble. You’d know it when he gave a speech or finding out what he’s accomplished. He could talk to anybody, whether a new cadet at Norwich or the president of the United States,” said Lori, highlighting his ability to be the walking embodiment of Capt. Alden Partridge’s citizen-soldier. When thinking of Partridge, Norwich University, and the spirit of service, it is impossible to not include Gordon Sullivan in the same thought.

His wake was held on Jan. 11 in his home state of Massachusetts. “It was an impressive sendoff for a great man and soldier,” said Karen Rinaldo, an artist and close friend of Gordon and Lori. Rinaldo noted that “Norwich University’s presence was felt,” during the ceremony honoring his life. 

“So many people expressed how he made them feel and what he meant to them,” said Lori. “It was really moving to hear that. He really loved Norwich. It’s where he found himself and where he figured out exactly who he was, what he wanted to do, and how he was going to live his life.”

Six days later, on Jan. 17, the Corps of Cadets formed on the Upper Parade Ground (UP) at where a drill team detail fired three rifle volleys. This was followed by the sounding of Echo Taps by Regimental buglers and the melody of Amazing Grace performed by the Norwich Pipes and Drum unit. Lori was then presented with a Norwich flag with three spent shell casings tucked tightly inside its precision folds.

Gordon resided in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and was married to Lori Boyle Sullivan since 2017. 

He was the proud father of three children and grandfather of three, and was previously married to Miriam Gay Loftus, who predeceased him in 2014. 

In honor of his service and dedication to this nation and its citizens, Gen. Gordon Sullivan’s final resting place is in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Image of Gen. Sullivan with students

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