Gordon Packard, a co-founder of the Primavera homeless shelter and foundation to improve the lives of people living on Tucson’s streets, died Sept. 22. He was 81.
Packard and his wife, Patricia, were traveling in California when he suffered heart failure. He died in a hospital in Barstow, California, said his daughter Cassandra Packard Johnson.
Along with Nancy Bissell, Packard founded a homeless shelter in the early 1980s and later a workers’ center and a foundation to support various programs.
“It started with ‘everybody needs to eat. You need a place to stay,’” Johnson said.
Packard and Bissell started their first soup kitchen, St. Martin’s, in Armory Park in 1982, but neighborhood opposition forced them to shut it down. To create their programs, Packard and Bissell established the Primavera Foundation in 1983.
They followed up by fixing up a defunct motel, Pueblo Court on South Sixth Avenue, which they used as a housing project in 1984 for mentally ill adults. Bissell and Packard employed homeless people to do much of the refurbishing. The Primavera shelter was opened near Interstate 10 and South Sixth Avenue in 1987.
Bissell wrote, “Our mission was not to provide handouts but create pathways out of poverty, beginning with basic crisis services, food and shelter, a place to get mail and refuge, and from there, help with finding jobs and more permanent housing. We had no paid staff for several years, relying on volunteers — including the people we served — to help us develop our programs. That grass-roots approach has stayed with us and sustained us as public funding has diminished over the years.”
Today, Peggy Hutchison is chief executive director of the Primavera Foundation. It operates a 100-bed men’s shelter, several housing programs, a job training center, and various sites throughout Tucson, including Las Abuelitas in South Tucson, developed for elderly low-income grandparents raising their grandchildren, Bissell wrote.
Services for Packard will be held Oct. 29, a Monday, at Grace St. Paul Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St., at 3 p.m, Johnson said.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia Packard; ex-wife Elizabeth Packard; three children, Cassandra Packard Johnson, Gordon R. Packard and Gregory L. Packard; and five grandchildren, Elyse Johnson, Andree Johnson, Kiara Packard, Tiena Packard and Lily Packard.
Packard was born in Menlo Park, California, and spent his first years in Chicago. Because he had respiratory problems, his family sent him to boarding school in Tucson when he was 8 years old, Johnson said.
His family moved to Tucson and later returned to California. He graduated from Stanford University.
Johnson said her father had always been civic-minded. In addition to addressing issues of homelessness, Packard was involved in local cultural organizations and later became involved in immigration issues, Johnson said.
But it was his passion to help the homeless that stirred him, she said.
“It just started with this idea: ‘Everybody needs to eat.’”