Edward Gorman, a socially and politically active resident of East Hampton Village and a former New York and San Francisco business executive, died on Saturday, April 3, at Stony Brook University Hospital. He was 92.
Born in Baltimore, he first came to East Hampton in 1949 as a weekender. He rented a room in a house on Egypt Lane for $3 a night on the advice of a friend after he had mentioned that he missed body surfing in Hawaii, his family said. In the early 1950s, he bought the cottage on the corner of Fithian Lane at Egypt Lane and owned various weekend houses, including the 1683 house at 9 Mill Hill Lane, before moving to Dunemere Lane as a year-round resident in 1980. He lived in Georgica Estates at the time of his death.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Gorman took on a citizen activist role in East Hampton as chairman of the ad hoc Citizens Planning Committee, hastily organized to fight elimination of East Hampton’s Planning Department by the then Republican-controlled Town Board. Through sidewalk signups, protest meetings and mailings, the upstart CPC grew to some 5,000 members while raising money to sue the town. The town fought back, but after more than two years of struggle offered to reinstate the Planning Department. Before that could be resolved, voters elected Democrats Judith Hope, as supervisor, and Tony Bullock, who was very active in the CPC, as a councilman. East Hampton soon became recognized as the most environmentally progressive town in the state.
Mr. Gorman continued to be active in environmental and civic issues after the CPC disbanded. He became chairman of Group for the South Fork; one of three founders of the Village Preservation Society; a founding director of Northwest Alliance; active in Peconic Now; chairman of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, a member of the town appointed Aircraft Noise Abatement Committee, and was involved in other issues affecting the future of East Hampton. He was also president of the East Hampton Conservators, a political action committee that supported environmentally responsible candidates, and of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee. Mr. Gorman was named the Democrat of the Year by the town Democrats at a holiday party in December 2009.
Mr. Gorman began his career as marketing vice-president of the Thom McAn Shoe Co. in New York, where he became nationally recognized in the 1950s and 1960s for innovative marketing techniques. He was the first to identify teenagers as a discrete and important market that could be influenced through their new music, rock and roll. Using rock music radio commercials, stodgy Thom McAn was transformed into America’s hip shoe store, lifting it out of its economic doldrums. His empathetic insights into the rebellious youth of those years made him a sought-after speaker at business conferences and at universities. Broadcast magazine dubbed him “the world’s oldest teenager.”
In 1966 he joined JCPenney as marketing assistant to the president. After a year-long study, he produced a detailed plan to remake Penney stores into fashion department stores and change the company’s marketing name from prosaic Penneys to the more distinctive JCPenney. In 1977, he left Penney to become chairman and CEO of Joseph Magnin, a San Francisco based chain of some 50 fashion stores. He sold his Magnin interest in 1980 and moved to East Hampton permanently.
Mr. Gorman graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a unique public high school, in 1935 in the depths of the Depression, when jobs were all but non-existent. College was not an option; his mother struggled alone to support three children. Eager for excitement and travel, he left a six-day per week 25-cents an hour job shifting stock in a Montgomery Ward warehouse to enlist in the U.S. Army, which shipped him to Hawaii. Service in the “Old Army” (pre-World War II) as a $21 per month private was a rough education for an 18-year-old innocent, his family said.
Upon his discharge in 1937, he returned to Baltimore and enrolled in night college courses at the University of Baltimore, qualified for the federal Civilian Pilot Training Program, and received his pilot’s license in 1940.
Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he re-enlisted and was assigned to the Army Air Corps with the rank of sergeant. He was soon transferred into the Army Counter Intelligence Corps as a special agent in civilian clothes, stationed in Washington, D.C. Soon after graduating in 1942 from the CIC Special Agents school in Chicago, he was shifted from Washington to Honolulu. He lived in a cottage on Waikiki Beach, working primarily on cases involving Japanese aliens, “an assignment too idyllic to be true,” he often said.
In 1944 he requested transfer to combat CIC. After combat jungle training he landed with the 7th Infantry Division at dawn on October 20, 1944, on Leyte in the Philippines. During the recapture of the Philippines from the Japanese, he was awarded a Bronze Star and received a battlefield commission.