By Emily Setona
GOLDEN GATE – Fondly known as Paddy, Peter Gordon is not just a park manager at Golden Gate Highlands National Park but a father figure to those who work with him.
With a career that spans 34 years inside SANPARKS, Paddy Gordon has managed seven of the 21 national parks in the country, an achievement he attributes to being raised by remarkable parents who instilled in him, a love for nature and the ability to engage with people from all walks of life.
“I believe in honouring your parents because I was raised by two giants who were always involved in community development. I grew up in a world that was much bigger than I was and I had to learn how to navigate within this world.
“That’s because my parents opened their home to people from all walks of life, not just South Africans but people from America, China, Europe and other parts of the world.”
Gordon said this in his opening remarks as he shared his story with the media during a briefing held during (South African National Parks) SANPARKS week.
Respect for people from all walks of life is a very important and critical aspect of Paddy’s character. Having grown up during a difficult time in South Africa’s history Gordon says that his experience grew him, it did not stifle him, because he got into a career path of nature conservation during a time when it was difficult for coloureds and blacks to get into this profession.
“I learned from my father that you cannot teach everything indoors, from the age of two I spent a lot of time with my father in the mountains. My parents instilled in me a love for nature, so I knew that I wanted to go into conservation, but I couldn’t study conservation because the universities were white owned,” he said.
Gordon holds a Bachelor of Science degree, honours in science degree, a teaching diploma and through SANPARKS he did a business management course at Wits University, and enrolled for a masters’ degree in environmental education at Rhodes University but did not complete it because he relocated from this area.
When it comes to managing a national park, Gordon’s background in science, education, and business management places him head and shoulders above the rest.
He came to manage Golden Gate National Park a month before the difficult time of Covid lockdown, and everyone looked to him for strength and support with the reassurance that he was not there to be the boss but to get Golden Gate to the place where it is today.
“The Free state was completely new to me, I had to learn a new language a new culture and most importantly the locals had to know that I respect their culture. Then I can know what role the park must play in the community,” he said.
He has also managed the following national parks; Richtersveld, Mountain Zebra national park, Table Mountain national park, the Garden route national park which consists of three parks, the Wilderness national park the Knysna national lake area, and the Tsitsikama national park.
SANPARKS general manager for media, events, marketing, and stakeholder relations, Reynold Thakhuli, was full of nothing but praise for Gordon.
“It is very humbling to work in this environment, but what is even more humbling is Paddy’s accessibility, and to simply say that he is a legend would be an understatement. He lives and breathes the system of national parks. Learning does not stop for Paddy; he has great interpersonal skills, and this is very admirable of him.”
Veronica Bothma who is part of hotel management, also had kind words for Gordon:
“Here at Golden Gate Paddy is a father, he is more than a boss. I can say he is a walking dairy; he has a lot of knowledge, he is our guide, we call on him for everything. Like Rey said, the accessibility. It is a privilege it is an honour to work with him.”