Gordon Charles: Heroic Outdoorsman, Writer, Humorist and Friend

By David Richey

What does a veteran outdoor-travel writer like Gordie Charles, a man who has visited 50 countries over a 52-year career, really need?

The answer: some new jokes. Charles, of Traverse City, Mich., needs puns that no one has heard before. Several of his staples are hilarious while some are glassy-eyed groaners.

This outdoor writing punster was once caught flat-footed in the joke department. He told an editor in Montreal that part of his colon had been removed. “I now have a semi-colon,” he quipped.

“Just be thankful it isn’t a period,” she deadpanned. Gordie is adept at writing outdoor copy for magazines and newspapers. We went to New Zealand in 1979, and he later said he’d sold 20 stories about that seven-day trip. I sold only nine.

His writing career began in 1952 with his first newspaper column for the Traverse City Record-Eagle, northern Michigan’s largest daily. He held that job until 1961, when he became the chief of information for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks until another job offer brought him back to Michigan in 1965.

Charles was editor of Michigan Out-of-Doors from 1965 until 1972, when he returned to Traverse City as the outdoor editor at the Record-Eagle. His syndicated weekly column, “Outdoors with Gordie,” began in 1952 and still runs in many weekly newspapers.

“I consider my career in outdoor writing a lucky break,” Charles, now 84 years old, said. “I made a vow as a youngster to write an outdoor column for the local paper after it fired its outdoors writer.”

World War II came along and interrupted his writing plans, but Charles played an important role in the war. He and several others in the Army Signal Corps in California picked up a new signal from Japan. A plan to invade India was revealed once the code was broken.

“Our seven-day interception of Japanese signals allowed us to place more troops and heavy artillery in India to stop the invasion,” he said. “It could have been a major wartime disaster.”

Charles is a prolific writer, with articles published in more than 500 publications. He had an outdoor radio program while working in Michigan and South Dakota, and he was president of the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association in 1960-61.

He can track down conservation news, write scathing articles on oil exploration and the damage it causes or turn a fishing trip with one trout into a captivating and memorable story. The essence of his writing is it appeals to fishermen, hunters and non-sportsmen alike.

He remains a hardcore newspaper writer who always got his facts straight and never missed a deadline. He joined OWAA in 1954 and has accumulated many photography and writing awards. He and his lovely wife, Dorothy, still reside in Traverse City.

He has written several outdoor books, and, although fishing and hunting has been lifelong passions, he has a vast knowledge of wildlife. His nature stories are eagerly awaited by his many fans.

Gordie Charles has been one of my heroes from among the many legendary Michigan outdoor writers. He stands tall with men like Ben East, Kendrick Kimball, Mort Neff, Harold Titus and Ray Voss.

There are two things to remember about Gordie Charles: He never met an outdoor story he didn’t want to write, and he never met a joke he couldn’t laugh his way through — even when it isn’t funny.

An OWAA member since 1968, David Richey lives in Buckley, Mich. A three-time OWAA board member, he received OWAA’s Ham Brown award in 1994 and OWAA’s Excellence in Craft award in 2003. Richey was the subject of a Legends article written by Kay Richey. It was published in the December 2003 OU.

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