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Raymond Jordan remembered as effective legislator, influential politician, and mentor

Raymond A. Jordan who died February 5, 2022 is seen here in 2018 at the dedication of the new senior center in Springfield that was named in his honor.
Paul Tuthill
Raymond A. Jordan who died February 5, 2022 is seen here in 2018 at the dedication of the new senior center in Springfield that was named in his honor.

Springfield's first Black state legislator dies at age 78

Tributes continue to pour in following the death over the weekend of a towering political figure, civil rights activist, public servant, and humanitarian from western Massachusetts.

Raymond A. Jordan, who died Saturday at the age of 78, went from being arrested on the steps of Springfield City Hall during a civil rights protest in the 1960s to being presented the key to the city when he retired more than a half-century later.

Along the way there were many many firsts in his life – The first Black state legislator from Springfield, the longest-serving vice chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, the first African-American from Massachusetts to serve on the Democratic National Committee and the first Black to chair the state’s Electoral College delegation that voted for the nation’s first Black president Barack Obama.

“He could bring people together, get things done, build consensus, overcome obstacles and at the end of the day find the best solution for the common good – that’s Ray Jordan,” said historian Joe Carvalho of Springfield.

He said during Jordan’s time in the state legislature from 1975-1993 he had a major influence statewide because governors and legislative leaders sought his advice and support as a representative of the Black community.

“He wasn’t a ‘yes man.’ He was someone who brought issues to the table… and said let’s find common ground here and he usually did and that is why he was so successful,” said Carvalho.

Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who became friends with Jordan when they were in the legislature together in the 70s, said in a statement, “Ray Jordan was one of the central figures in the transformation of the Massachusetts State House, and he made sure equal opportunity and justice were central to state policymaking.”

Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield said he and Jordan were friends and political allies for 50 years.

“One of the things most important about Ray Jordan is that he was an effective legislator,” said Neal. “He was a very good inside player in the legislature.”

He said what he will miss most is Jordan’s humor.

“This guy could tell stories and they were really quite hilarious and some of them a little bit colorful, as we would say, about the characters he met along the way that he served with, but they were of great humor and were always timely and some of the things he would speak to me about in terms of irony, I’d be laughing for days,” Neal said.

Housing was an issue that Jordan cared deeply about. He was appointed by President Clinton to a top job in the New England region office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jordan would remain with the federal agency until his retirement in 2012.

Even in retirement, he was still helping people find a place to live or getting their heat put back on, said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.

“That’s what it is to be a public servant and you gotta want to do it in your head, heart, and gut and Ray did that,” Sarno said.

Sarno, whose office announced Jordan’s death and issued a statement on behalf of the family, described Jordan as “a dear friend.”

“I really valued his friendship, his advice, his wisdom, his support, I really cherished it,” Sarno said.

Jordan’s daughter Denise Jordan worked for Sarno as his chief-of-staff for a decade.

In 2018, Springfield thanked Ray Jordan for his work on behalf of the people of the city by naming a new $13 million senior center in his honor.

“In terms of how this building came out and the things that will go on here, I am very very proud,” Jordan said at the dedication ceremony.

As a member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s governing committee for 40 years, Jordan’s support and advice was sought by generations of politicians in all regions of the state said Jesse Lederman, chairman of the Springfield City Democratic Committee.

“Upon his retirement from the state Democratic Party he was unanimously named Chairman Emeritus and that is not always the case,” said Lederman.

Jordan lived in Springfield his entire life. He founded a program in the city to help youth with academics and athletics and steer them away from destructive influences.

As a member of the Brethren Community Foundation, Jordan helped organize more than 15 years ago an annual Juneteenth celebration to commemorate the emancipation of Black slaves.

When another Foundation member, State Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield sponsored legislation in 2020 to make Juneteenth a state holiday, he credited Jordan’s advice for helping get it passed.

Williams said Jordan called him just a week ago and encouraged him to keep doing his job and keep fighting for the people.

“And now that I reflect on that, it might have been his way of keeping me engaged and telling me to keep the faith,” Williams said Monday.

Jordan is survived by his wife of 57 years, Donna Jordan and two daughters, Darlene and Denise.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.