Robert Gordon

Known to all as “Bob,” Gordon was a New York native who came to San Francisco in the late 1960s, served as combat medic in Vietnam, and settled in Sonoma County in the mid 1980s.

He co-owned the former Kyoto Koi and Garden Center in Santa Rosa and later opened his own business, Pond Systems, off Tesconi Circle, in the mid-1990s.

His path into the pond business was not direct. He first worked for years as a tax lawyer for Bank of America. Disenchanted with that job, Gordon followed his interests in nature and travel into koi and pond retailing, friends and family said.

“It was a natural thing. He had to do something that was his, that was exciting and creative, where he had close interaction with people,” said Joe Cattano, a lifelong friend who lives in Freeport, N.Y., where the two men grew up.

Gordon’s first business, the Kyoto Koi and Garden Center, off Guerneville Road, closed after financial problems arose with his partner, friends said.

He second venture, Pond Systems, started small, with a lone 45-gallon water feature. Over the years, he built the shop into a leading local pond and koi business, with nationwide sales of pond kits, side contracts at home and garden shows and regular landscape consulting work.

“We really put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that place,” said Greg Enlow, a friend and former Pond Systems employee.

Described as witty and bright, Gordon had an adventurous streak that landed him a variety of odd jobs early in life. After two years at his father’s alma mater, Penn State, he signed on with New York’s 1964-1965 World’s Fair, where he helped put together a model of the Santa Maria, one of Christopher Columbus’ ships, on display.

He moved to San Francisco in 1967 during the city’s renowned Summer of Love gathering. Two years later, he served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a medic in the Army’s 145th Combat Aviation Battalion.

Back in San Francisco on the GI Bill he studied at Golden Gate University and earned his law degree from UC Hastings College of Law.

His first wife, Barbara, died in the early 1980s. His second marriage, to Cynthia Skinnner, ended in divorce. In the mid-1980s, one of his two sisters, Heather, was killed in a car crash in which Gordon was the driver. Friends said he was haunted by the accident.

He was engaged to Ya Ling, a San Francisco resident and his companion of 13 years. Ling’s son, Yang Xiao, described Gordon as a father figure to him and his sister, Ling Ralli.

Gordon’s property in Kenwood was a popular site for the family’s gatherings. It featured several acres of chardonnay grapes and over the years was home to many beloved dogs, including his latest, a shepherd mix called Sandy.

“He was always smiling,” said Xiao, 33, of San Bruno. “A very generous, very kind, very considerate person.”

In addition to his fiancee, Gordon is survived by his sister Bonnie Baker of Honolulu.

Visitation and a celebration of Gordon’s life is set for 9 a.m. to noon Sunday at Duggan’s Serra Mortuary, 500 Westlake Avenue, Daly City. Burial service will follow.

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