Richard Davis Goff (1934–2011)
Raymond Craib, November 2011
Historian of the Old South
Richard "Dick" Goff, professor emeritus at Eastern Michigan University died on January 16, 2011, in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was 76. Born in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1934, Dick earned his BA (1955) and PhD (1963) from Duke University, and his MA (1956) from Cornell University. He began his teaching career in 1961 as an instructor in history at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., before joining Eastern Michigan's faculty in 1964 where he taught until his retirement in 2000. A specialist in the history of the Old South, U.S. constitutional history and early national U.S. history, Dick was the author of Confederate Supply (Duke University Press, 1969), a work unsurpassed to this day in its detailed analysis of the Confederate States of America's supply system, as well as co-author of The Twentieth Century: A Brief Global History and the two-volume World History. He received EMU's University Service Award in 1983 and was active on numerous University committees throughout his career.
An avid birder, Goff traveled to Attu, Alaska, and climbed Mt. Lemon, Arizona, and just about everywhere in between, binoculars in hand. A poet at heart, he would recite from memory an array of poems, his two favorites being The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Tennyson's Flower in the Crannied Wall. And he was, for his many students, the consummate mentor and teacher.
Dick is survived by his wife of 50 years, Nancy; a brother, Donald Goff; and several nieces and nephews. And he is survived by a multitude of students whom he not only taught and mentored, but also cared for deeply and shaped profoundly. I was one of those students. I first met Dick in 1987, as a transfer student to Eastern Michigan. He became an integral part of my life for the next twenty years and it is a testament to Dick's enormous spirit that so many of his advisees and students would say the same (and in fact did so when they converged, from afar, on Ypsilanti recently for a memorial in Dick's honor). Dick's office door was always open and he never declined a request to edit an essay or term paper, his red chicken-scratch in the margins of papers becoming the stuff of legend among his students and colleagues. (Asking 'Goff' to read a draft of your essay was the university equivalent of the playground's triple-dog-dare.) But more importantly, his home was always open. We ate in his kitchen, crashed on his couch, borrowed his books, and waxed philosophical with him while spreading mulch in his garden. We took the bait—gleefully—every time he goaded us and we soaked up his love and generosity and concern.
Whether in the classroom or at home, he took his students seriously and engaged with them intensely, frankly, and with unmatched political and intellectual zeal, forging friendships of great intensity and power. Even as Dick fought the progressive ravages of Parkinson's disease—with which he lived for 27 years—he energized us, inspiring us with his own stubborn refusal to submit and his expectation that we live and live fully. An iconoclast and rabblerouser, independent minded and fiercely egalitarian, he provoked many a contentious argument, dropping provocative statements or questions into a conversation, only to then recline slightly in a chair and follow the heated proceedings, a thoughtful and knowing smile on his face. Think for yourself, his smile said. At the same time he was one of the gentlest human beings I have known, always, to the very end, more sensitive to the difficulties and pain of others than to his own. His way in the world was tender.
As he neared retirement, Dick received Eastern Michigan University's Alumni Award. Current and former students came, many from quite far, to be there. Upon his introduction, he received an extended standing ovation that filled the room, an ovation that stretched across his decades of teaching, of mentoring, and of care. One of his colleagues in the room remarked to me afterward that he had never seen anything like it before. Dick Goff was a rare and beautiful bird.