Obituary of Gordon Pradl

April 17, 2020

Gordon Morrell Pradl, a longtime professor of English education at New York University, died from complications of the coronavirus on April 17 at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 76 years old.

Gordon was born on December 6, 1943, in Montreal, Quebec, and grew up in Morristown, N.J. He graduated from Amherst College in 1965. Influenced by the college's freshman composition curriculum, he devoted his career to promoting progressive methods for the teaching of reading and writing. He taught high school in Hicksville, N.Y., while completing his M.A. degree at NYU, then went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Education program in language education. While writing his dissertation on the work of British teacher and scholar David Holbrook, he taught and served as the department chair at a junior high school in Newton, Mass.

During the 1970s, as New York City suffered a fiscal crisis and declines in the quality of public high schools, the City University of New York opened enrollments, granting broad access to post-secondary education. The admission of poorly prepared students at CUNY created an immediate need for remedial instructors at the college level. Gordon, hired at NYU in 1971, taught many of those instructors in the English Education Program, gently guiding graduate and doctoral students, and supervising scores of Ph.D. dissertations. A kind person with an insightful mind, he was insatiably curious, resolute, and brave in his thinking. He engaged with both students and colleagues by asking questions, and he skillfully entertained diverse points of view.

At NYU, he also founded and directed the English Education Study Abroad Program with Geoffrey Summerfield at the University of York and Oxford University. Students spent life-changing summer months in Britain, visiting schools and working with many of the most influential thinkers and teachers in English education, including James Britton, whose selected essays Gordon edited. He also trained hundreds of expository writing instructors for NYU's College of Arts and Science. For many years, he co-edited English Education, the journal of the English education section of the National Council of Teachers of English.

He wrote and published many articles and books, including Literature for Democracy, which in an era of high-stakes testing and individual performance argues that reading is a social act, and the teaching of literature must never be authoritarian. He served from 1999 through 2002 as the principal investigator on a research project concerned with reviving New York City's public schools funded by the Annenberg Foundation.

In 2010, after retiring from the Department of Teaching and Learning, which he had helped to establish 20 years earlier, he lent his editorial skills to his friends and colleagues, helping them to complete books. For the past five years, he belonged to the "Tuesday Lecture & Discussion Group," and one member recalls that he "never met anyone who had such a big heart and such a big intellect."

A fine cabinetmaker and craftsman, Gordon created many beautiful and useful objects from lumber and furniture he found on the street. He renovated and decorated a historic Brooklyn brownstone with antiques he collected with Mary Ann Carme Pradl, his wife of 52 years. Gordon and Mary Ann appreciated gardening, the arts, and classical music, and shared those loves with others through their patronage of public institutions. He also cherished his neighborhood, especially the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where he walked almost every day. With home health workers, he cared for Mary Ann who lived for 15 years with advanced dementia. Mary Ann's sister Josephine recalls that Gordon applied his intellect and resourcefulness to her sister's care as if it were an intellectual problem to be solved. Mary Ann died at home, a few days before Gordon's admission to the hospital. Family, friends, and generations of former students treasure his example of a good and committed life lived with generosity and thoughtfulness.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in memory of Gordon and Mary Ann Pradl at 1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225.

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Posted by: - , - April 28, 2020

For over thirty years you brought friendship, trust, tolerance, respect, and honesty to our Teaching & Learning community , the students, colleagues, friends, family and especially me will miss you. Mark

Posted by: - , - April 28, 2020

Your mentorship, your knowledge, your scholarship...but most of all your hand gestures, your chuckles, your wide-armed embraces...and still remember your pony-tail..Peace to you and Mary Ann.

Frank P.

Posted by: - , - April 28, 2020

You will be missed - by your students of many years, family, friends - and your classmates at Amherst, who have long loved your bright intellect, relentless curiosity, and generous spirit.


Posted by: - , - April 28, 2020

You were one of a kind--a kind, generous, and empathetic advisor to so many of us in the English Education program. Rest in peace, Gordon. Your work will live on in us.

Posted by: - , - April 28, 2020

You were one of my favorite professors, Gordon. You will be missed. So many memories.

Posted by: Sasha Taublieb - , NY - April 28, 2020

A true progressive teacher/learner who inspired his students. We need more Gordon Pradls in our world. Sharon Shelton-Colangelo

Posted by: Sharon Colangelo - , - April 29, 2020

Gordon Pradl was a colleague and friend who was deeply generous and thoughtful. He always saw the forest for the trees. He smiled gently with a glimmer in his eye, showing you he saw the whole thing. He was on my dissertation committee and more than any other professor, he provided suggestions and insights that pushed forward my research and writing. He let people know when he was concerned about them. He let people know when he was proud of them. He will be greatly missed.

Posted by: - , - April 29, 2020

Gordon, our hearts are broken. You always made time for me as a student, and you welcomed me as a friend and mentor when I moved on afterwards. Thank you for the burgers and dog walks in Brooklyn. Your gentle guidance and friendship will be sorely missed.

Posted by: Jill Jeffery - , - April 29, 2020

Ave atque vale

Posted by: - , - April 30, 2020

beloved colleague, mentor, dissertation chair, and dear friend...gentle, kind, wise, and caring...we both loved gardens...

Posted by: Ron Janoff - , - April 30, 2020

Gordon has been a neighbor and a friend for 40 years. I miss him every day. We shared many Holiday meals and lunches. He helped me edit my book. Gordon was much more of an intellectual than myself but we did have connection because we both loved our homes and whenever possible I would help him. Sometimes there were projects that we would work on together. I wish we had more time together. I am heartbroken that I will not see him again.

Posted by: David Licht - Brooklyn, NY - May 1, 2020

So many memories amidst this sadness. Gordon was such a fine teacher, mentor and colleague. Like so many others I am grateful for Gordon's guidance, insight, generosity and patience during those years at NYUfrom that initial interview, to those rich seminars, consultations and finally, yes, that glass of champagne after the dissertation defense. Gordon seemed inextricable to our program, his presence and way of being the best exemplar for what it represented in enlightened education. I am touched with sadness at his death and lasting gratitude for his life.

Posted by: Alan Devenish - Elka Park, NY - May 3, 2020

Gordon served on my Ph.D. dissertation committee in the English Education Department and guided me with wit, intelligence, and patience. His wry sense of humor and calm demeanor supported me when I doubted myself and served as model of how to live a full life. We often compared renovation stories as I too lived on Park Place and with my husband worked on refurbishing an old brownstone home. His talent far exceeded my imagination, let alone my abilities.

I am saddened beyond words to learn of his and Mary Ann's deaths. My condolences to his family. He inspired me more than I can say, as I am sure he has done for countless others.

Lynn Kearney, Ph.D.
English Education
Class of 1987

Posted by: Lynn Kearney - New York, NY - May 4, 2020

Gordon taught me many thingsgave me many gifts. Forbearance and patience, the gift of reflection and learning to truly listen to others are but a few. Though we lived close enough we saw each other not enough. I will miss him. Rest In Peace, Gordon. Rest In Peace, Mary Ann.

Posted by: Andrew Weitz - Roslyn, NY - May 10, 2020

I first met Gordon and Mary Ann in 1984 when I rented their garden apartment. Mary Ann and I soon became fast friends had much fun in their garden, their home and in places all around New York. Much later, and after Mary Ann became ill, I had more interaction with Gordon and introduced him to my 20 year old son, Jake. Gordon and Jake shared a passion for progressive politics and intellectual conversation. Gordon and I also shared long email conversations about politics, inequality, etc. There is really no one else like Gordon in my life and I will miss him terribly. I sent an email to Gordon on April 18 and was waiting his reply. When I heard nothing I googled Mary Ann and then discovered that Gordon had passed away on April 17th. I couldn't believe my eyes. My deepest sympathies and sadness with all who knew and enjoyed the wonderful man that was Gordon Pradl. Below is a photo of Jake with Gordon May, 2019.

Posted by: Susan Witz - , - May 10, 2020

Gordon was a wonderful advisor and mentor as well as a kind and generous person. He gave me a wonderful model for how to teach and mentor. I am forever grateful.

Posted by: Lee Galda Pellegrini - Bloomington, MN - July 23, 2020

Gordon was a wonderful advisor and mentor as well as a kind and generous person. He gave me a wonderful model for how to teach and mentor. I am forever grateful.

Posted by: Lee Galda Pellegrini - Bloomington, MN - July 23, 2020

I'm so very sorry to hear about Mr. Gordons and Mary Anns passing. They were wonderful, loving people. Im going to miss them both .

Posted by: Maia Tsomaia - Brooklyn, NY - August 15, 2020

Gordon was my oldest friend, from college days at McGill University, where he went for his "Junior Year Abroad." I visited him in Amherst during our senior years. After that, we were in touch many, many times over the years. I was at the wedding of Gordon and Mary Ann. I stayed with them in their apartment the day of the 1970 Census. I visited them at their home in Colrain, MA, during the early '70s. I also visited them several times in their brownstone in Brooklyn. Gordon and I corresponded many times over the years. After Mary Ann became ill, we saw each other less often. I last visited Gordon in January, 2016. But we stayed in touch by email.
Gordon was a wonderful, smart, good person! I owe a lot to our friendship. I feel truly bereft.

Posted by: Grover Furr - Bloomfield, NJ - December 30, 2020

My condolences to all who knew Gordon. I only knew him through some email correspondence about his Spragg and Morrell ancestry. We had lost touch in recent years. I am saddened to discover this loss. Blessings to you all.

Posted by: Pastor J. Trent Boyd - , - April 23, 2021
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