Leon Gorman (1934-2015)

September 3, 2015 by Office of the President

To the Bowdoin community,

Today is a very sad day for Bowdoin and for the state of Maine, as we have learned of the passing of our graduate and trustee emeritus Leon A. Gorman ’56, H’83, the former president and chairman of L.L. Bean. Leon died this morning surrounded by family members after battling cancer for several months. He was 80 years old.

Leon’s leadership of L.L. Bean—the company founded by his grandfather, Leon Leonwood Bean—is legendary and rivaled only by his devotion to Maine and to Bowdoin. He led L.L. Bean for more than four decades, steering the outdoors store to its prominent spot as Maine’s most recognized brand. All the while, he also served the state and the college he so clearly loved.

Leon was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, and grew up in Yarmouth, Maine. A government major at Bowdoin, Leon graduated in 1956 cum laude. He served in the U.S. Navy for three years and joined L.L. Bean a year later. Under his leadership, L.L. Bean grew from a $4.75 million company to a billion-dollar enterprise. All the while, Leon focused his talents and energy on serving others and on preserving the essence of Maine.

He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1983 at Bowdoin’s 178th Commencement in recognition of his contributions to the welfare of Maine and to higher education. That same year, Leon was named an overseer of the College, and in 1994 he was elected to the Board of Trustees.

While serving as an overseer and trustee, Leon provided invaluable counsel to three Bowdoin presidents, including Roy Greason, Bob Edwards, and Barry Mills. Today, my two most recent predecessors expressed their thoughts about Leon and his remarkable impact.

“Leon Gorman was really the epitome of Maine and of Bowdoin,” wrote Barry in a message this morning. “He was a talented leader of great common sense and integrity who remained humble through enormous success, focusing on excellence for his company, for his beloved state of Maine, and for his College. He was devoted to Bowdoin’s academic program, to Maine students, and to the environment, and he understood that Bowdoin is a college in Maine. We will miss his able leadership, his friendship, and his tireless commitment to Bowdoin and to our state.” 

“I’m deeply sorry it’s come so swiftly to this,” wrote Bob Edwards. “We’ve just returned from a week in the North Woods. It’s a place Leon loved, and we thought of him a lot because the way he lived his life—sparely and decently—and the purposes and principles of his family company are the natural expression of Maine. He’s always had a gift for making these traditional values seem salient and modern.” 

Among Leon’s many contributions to Bowdoin were major support for the academic program, financial aid, and faculty sabbaticals. He also provided an endowed professorship in the creative arts and support for the Outing Club. A gift by Leon and Lisa Gorman enabled the College to establish the Bowdoin College Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island, a facility dedicated in May 1998.

Of course, Leon’s extraordinary loyalty to Bowdoin was but a single chapter in a life devoted to the common good. Among the many organizations that benefited from Leon’s leadership were the Boy Scouts of America Pine Tree Council; the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School; Jackson Laboratory; Land for Maine’s Future; Maine Audubon Society; the Natural Resources Council of Maine; the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy; the Portland Museum of Art; and the United Way of Greater Portland.

He was the recipient of numerous business and community service awards, including the President’s Award from the Portland chapter of the NAACP; the Maine Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year Award; the Nature Conservancy’s President’s Conservation Achievement Award; and the Maine School Superintendents Association Distinguished Service Award.

The generosity of Leon and Lisa Gorman has also touched many other colleges and universities, medical facilities, museums, arts and cultural organizations, wilderness and conservation societies, and community service programs that meet the needs of the disadvantaged. For a dozen years, Leon served as a volunteer at Preble Street, the Portland shelter led by our graduate, Mark Swann ’84. In addition to providing sound counsel to the organization’s leadership, Leon, in typical fashion and without fanfare, also showed up every Wednesday morning to cook and serve breakfast to the city’s homeless.

Leon stepped down from the Bowdoin Board of Trustees in 2002. In 2010 he was recognized with Bowdoin’s highest honor—The Bowdoin Prize—for his distinguished career as a business leader, conservationist, and philanthropist, and in the time since then, right up until he became ill, he remained deeply connected to the College.

Memorial arrangements for Leon are pending and will be conveyed to the Bowdoin community when they become available.

There will be many tributes to Leon Gorman over the next several days as Maine and America remember this remarkable man. Here at Bowdoin, we remember a devoted alumnus and leader who helped in so many ways to make us a stronger college and who, through his tireless example, underscored the importance of service to the common good and the values of integrity, hard work, and compassion for those less fortunate. Today, we join with his friends, classmates, and the people of Maine in offering heartfelt condolences to Leon’s wife, Lisa, and to the entire Gorman family at this very difficult time.


Clayton Rose