Obituary of J. Gordon Brookover
J. Gordon Brookover, whose clothing stores and civic involvement were an important part of Boise’s history, died June 6, 2023, six months after celebrating his 100th birthday. Gordon woke every morning ready to see people and live life to the fullest. Ever the person with a ready smile and a penchant for fun, it is no surprise that he was out for dinner the day before he passed into the next life. His family celebrated his amazing life at a small graveside service with military honors on July 7, 2023 at Morris Hill Cemetery.
Gordon was born in Boise to Samuel and Mary Brookover at the family home, 919 Harrison Boulevard. In later years, Gordon recalled many North End childhood experiences with people who became lifelong friends. In middle school, he shared a stamp-collecting interest with Frank Church, who later served as one of Idaho’s U.S. Senators. Gordon and Nif Sullivan whose family owned the Idaho Candy Company, operated an after-school lawn business along Harrison. On weekends, they would spend their proceeds on a movie at the Egyptian Theater and then head over on the sly to the candy factory to make sure the product was up to snuff. Gordon was befriended by Harry and Ann Morrison, founders of the Morrison-Knudsen Company. Gordon often traveled with Harry and in later years occasionally served as an escort for Velma Morrison, Harry’s second wife, when Harry was not available.
Gordon was a dutiful son and worked hard but he was always drawn to adventure. He started driving his father’s Packard at age 11, backing in and out of the garage. On what turned out to be the last time he drove the Packard, the car was moving into the garage too quickly, so Gordon bailed out as the car continued through the back of the brick garage. Game up! Samuel Brookover owned cattle and Gordon learned early how to work on the farm. He told of being loaned out to neighboring farmers to buck hay, fix fences, or do other chores. When the farmer offered to pay for the labor, Samuel would insist that Gordon didn’t want money because he was happy to help. Actually, Gordon remembered, he was always a good sport, but he would have preferred getting paid. Gordon loved being a Boy Scout and attended the National Jamboree in Washington D.C. in 1937. He told stories of riding the train for days, camping out on the Potomac for a week with fellow Scouts from all over the country, and meeting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a special honor for the Scouts.
Gordon began his educational journey at Whittier and Central schools and was in the first freshman class at North Junior High. He spent one year at Boise High School and then, given the imminent threat of war in Europe, was sent by his parents to Kemper Military School in Boonville, MO, to be trained as an Army officer. Harry Truman, then a U.S. Senator from Missouri, loved the Kemper school, and Gordon recalled that Truman visited the school frequently and lunched with the cadets.
After graduating from Kemper, Gordon decided he was interested in the Navy. He chose the Naval ROTC program at the University of Southern California for his post-secondary studies. He was in his first semester at USC when, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war. Gordon was placed on active duty on December 8 and entered an accelerated Engineering and Naval Officer training program. Two years later, Gordon was commissioned and became a naval officer and a navigator on board destroyers, minesweepers, and later for a Convoy Commodore. He spent the major part of the war in the Caribbean and Pacific theaters. Gordon was serving on a minesweeper in the southwest Pacific as the Navy prepared to invade Japan within weeks. Then President Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, which ended the war, avoided an invasion estimated to cost a million American casualties, and saved Gordon’s life. After the war, Gordon was ordered to flight school with the Naval Academy class of 1945 in Dallas, TX. Later he moved to Washington D.C. to become a Congressional Liaison Officer on the staffs of Admiral Denfield and Admiral Holloway. He subsequently spent 21 years as an active Naval Reserve Officer, served in the Selective Service Reserve, and was a member of the Naval Minewarfare Association.
After going back to college and finishing his degrees, Gordon returned to Boise and to the start of a long career in the fashion industry. In Boise, a mutual friend introduced him to Barbara Jane Pavlat. They were married in 1952, a union that lasted until her death in 2020. The couple had two children, Gary and Hollis.
Gordon’s father Samuel founded Brookover’s, “The Store for Women,” in 1917. Its first home was on 8th Steet where Zion’s Bank now stands. A newspaper ad for the store’s 30th anniversary reminded Boise readers of the time when Boise lacked an airport, when the lot where the Boise Depot now stands was vacant, and when the old Hotel Boise – now the Hoff Building – had yet to be built. Gordon eventually became owner and chairman of the board for Brookover’s, Inc., and in ensuing years managed the expansion of stores to Vista Village, Hillcrest, Westgate and Nampa, while moving the original store to Idaho street. The downtown store had an in-store beauty salon and a downstairs Bargain Basement. Over time, Brookover’s customers included daughters and granddaughters of the original shoppers.
As his professional life expanded, so did Gordon’s civic interests. He was a trustee for the BSU Foundation; a member of the St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center board which he chaired in 1991 and 1992; a board member of the Greater Boise Chamber of Commerce, Home Federal Savings and Loan, Idaho First National Bank, and West One Bank; a Boise Airport Commissioner; a director of the Rotary Club of Boise; and a member of the Arid Club, becoming Kingfish in 1982, and of Hillcrest Country Club, serving as president in 1971. Gordon was a dedicated volunteer for SCORE, mentoring young business entrepreneurs. He was an avid skier who purchased his last season pass at Bogus Basin in his 90th year. As long as he could, he maintained his pilot’s license. For years he had a standing weekly golf game with the WAGS – the Wednesday Afternoon Golf group comprised of good friends like John Fery, Warren McCain, Gov. Cecil Andrus, Bob Krueger, Fred Thompson, John Parrish, and Sam Crossland, to name a few.
Gordon’s son-in-law Milt Gillespie said he would always remember how Gordon worked hard to keep up with technological changes, such as cell phones and computers. “When he wanted to do something, he was relentless,” Gillespie said. Gordon was often frustrated by Apple when they would update his iphone without permission or documentation.
Gordon loved to laugh and to the end was quick to joke and smile. He loved Idaho, bird hunting, entertaining friends at his Warm Lake cabin, the Sun Valley Jazz Festival, trips to the Governor’s golf tournament, and all the great friends he met along the way. He loved his family fiercely and worked to provide them every opportunity for growth. Surviving and grateful children and grandchildren include Gary Brookover (Linda Jensen), Hollis Brookover (Milt Gillespie), John Brookover, Samuel Gillespie, Lindsey Jensen, Shannon Mason (Travis), and great-granddaughter Robbi Mason.
Donations can be made in Gordon’s name to the Frank Church Institute (Boise State University, 1910 University Drive, Mail Stop 1936, Boise, ID 83725), Greater Boise Rotary Club (802 W. Bannock St., Boise ID 83702), or the Saint Alphonsus Foundation (6090 W. Emerald St., Boise, ID 83704). The family is grateful for the loving care Gordon received from professionals at Bluebird Health.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of J. Brookover, please visit Tribute Store