Duffy’s Early Years
Duffy was born and raised in Hanford. He attended local schools and, perhaps as a harbinger of things to come as an elected official, was the student body president at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School. In 1942, he graduated from Hanford High School, where he was active in sports and lettered in track and football. Sports was not Duffy’s only interest; he had a featured part in his high school senior play, “Young April.”
Following high school, Duffy attended UC Berkeley. He planned to study optometry, his father’s profession, but he also wanted to join the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp. Because optometry was not an accepted course of study in the naval program, he majored in history, English and naval science. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1944.
Duffy entered the Navy as an ensign and was ordered to serve in the Pacific theater on an oil tanker. While enroute to the tanker, he received word that the ship had been sunk. He was then assigned to the cruiser USS Denver and later to a cargo ship where he served as a gunnery officer. He was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and returned to UC Berkeley to study optometry.
Upon receiving his optometry degree, Duffy moved back to Hanford and joined the optometry practice owned by his father, Carl, and Bill Burlington. Duffy was a member of the Hanford Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of the Hanford Lions Club and served as its president.
In 1952, Duffy became a member of the Hanford Planning Commission and was elected as the commission’s chair. One night in 1955, about 15 teachers came to his house and asked him to run for the Hanford Elementary School Board of Trustees. He agreed, was elected and served six years on the board as both a member and chairman.
In 1962, Duffy was elected to the Hanford City Council. In 1964, he served as mayor.
Serving Kings and Tulare Counties and the State
In 1964, Duffy was elected to the California State Assembly. He was the first Kings County resident elected to the state legislature since 1922. He served the district that included Kings, Tulare and part of Kern counties until 1982.
Duffy, a Republican, was a recognized authority on public health issues in the Democratically-controlled legislature. He rose to prominence as a member and chair of the Ways and Means (budget) and Social Welfare and Public Health committees. He was able to work on a bipartisan basis to enact significant legislation, including the Nurse Practice Act, and was instrumental in the formation of the California Department of Emergency Services.
A lasting legacy of Duffy’s legislative career was the establishment of the Yaudanchi Ecological Preserve in Tulare County. The preserve is a rare, sizable tract of foothills and Valley rangeland that is left almost entirely to the designs of nature. It is a place where indigenous animals, native plants, a pond, remnants of a riparian woodland and migrating birds thrive. (Learn more about this ecological preserve at the Tulare County Treasures website:
Duffy lost an election bid to become California’s Secretary of State in 1982 but remained a dedicated public servant, serving as the governor’s Cabinet Secretary of Environmental Affairs and chair of the California Air Resources Board.
Duffy worked as a lobbyist with his wife, Jean, from 1985 until his retirement in 1988. They enjoyed traveling the world in their later years and spent significant time in Scotland. Duffy passed away Feb. 2, 2012 in Sonoma County, California.
Hanford Daily Sentinel, February 28, 1952
Hanford Daily Sentinel, May 17, 1952
Hanford Daily Sentinel, January 24, 1955
Hanford Daily Sentinel, May 5, 1955
Hanford Sentinel, October 16, 1976
Jean Duffy, February 2021
Gordon Duffy devoted much of his professional life to serving the residents of Hanford, Kings and Tulare counties.