They Know I Love Them - A Tribute to Millie Gordon, The Music Lady

Author: Matt Jenkins, Communications Officer

Pictured Above: Millie Gordon hugs Western Region Director, Steve Bailey, as he presents her with the 2008 Old North State Award for the many decades of volunteer service to the NC Division of Prisons.


Millicent “Millie” Gordon has gone up yonder – gone home to be with the Lord.

At a point many years ago when she sought to find purpose for her life, she was shown a pathway. Faith leading her every step, she found a true calling by sharing her musical gifts and caring about young men in the North Carolina correction system. It’s hard to put a number on just how many lives Mille Gordon affected, and equally as difficult to count the number of grandsons she claims throughout communities far and near.

You see, every young man who came into contact with this incredible woman, meant something to her. She loved each one unconditionally. In an interview [given to a NC TV station] about her life, she said, “I don’t ask why they are there, I just offer them understanding without being judgmental.” Millie considered herself a grandmother to all the boys she taught.

For better than 30 years, Millie Gordon’s music program was soulful therapy for the [hundreds of] young men at the [now closed] Western Youth Institution, and then most recently at Foothills Correctional Institution [on the adjacent campus] in Morganton, NC. Affectionately known as, “The Music Lady,” Millie earned respect and admiration from everyone she interacted with over the years, especially those students she helped to uncover hidden musical talents while studying in her studio.

Former co-worker, Carlos Hernandez shares, “she is the only one I know who could walk into an area where inmates were being loud - and when they would see this little frail lady, they would get quiet, talk to her and simply respect her presence.”

As the facility’s resident celebrity, she shared her story often with the public, and during a 2013 interview for the NPR segment, All Things Remembered, The Julliard-trained Millie said, “I rarely hear from them once they get out, but I turn them over to God and say, he’s your child now, you know what to do.” That was the way she saw herself, a volunteer teaching music to help people heal, grow and find their purpose in life. She was unwavering in that mission and dedication to the NC prison community for many years.

Millie’s drive to share her musical wisdom became her life’s work, earning her several accolades, though, that was never the driving factor for keeping her going behind bars day in and day out. In 1999, she was recognized nationally for "Project Together," a program she developed which brought other senior citizens from the community to teach arts and other skills to the inmates.

In 2013, she was awarded the Old North State Award (second only to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine) “For dedication and service beyond expectation and excellence to the Great State of North Carolina, on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina.” Undoubtedly, the best recognition of her service and the impact she had on people’s lives came from those she interacted with most regularly. “She receive calls from many ex-inmates thanking her for faith in them, said Hernandez. “She would get letters from ex inmates that had known her 20, 30 years ago still thanking her for the impact she had on them, it is simply amazing.”

Millie believed the best calling she could have in life was to help troubled teenagers, and contended she was never afraid to work with these young inmates. They loved her and they knew she loved them. Millie, has now been turned over to God, she’s his child now. While she will be missed here on earth, he already has her teaching and playing joyful music in his heavenly venue. "I love every day I go through those bars and can make a difference in somebody's life - they know I love them.”

The Music Lady
Millicent “Millie” Gordon
1926 – 2018

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