Jay S. Goodman, Ph.D., J.D.

Jay S. Goodman, Ph.D., J.D.

Jay S. Goodman, Ph.D., J.D., of Providence, RI, died May 2, 2015. He was born in 1940. He was a renowned political science professor, political advisor, attorney, and civic leader. He was 75. He died with his family at his side following a year-long battle with lung cancer. Despite his illness and treatments, he continued to teach throughout his entire 50th year as professor at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

Mr. Goodman was not only a revered professor but also accomplished in three other related fields: in politics, as a volunteer leader in civic service, and as an attorney and legal scholar. But what made him most proud, he said, was “the success of my students.” He was especially pleased by the many Wheaton students he helped to win scholarships, including Trumans, Rhodes, and Marshalls. “It’s like sports. Talent wins,” he told the Wheaton Quarterly. “It’s not about class, or pedigree, or money. These kids have the talent? They win. It’s great.”

Known for his sharp wit and encyclopaedic knowledge of American political history, as well as his cloud of gray (and later white) hair, Mr. Goodman was a gifted and dynamic teacher. During his half-century at Wheaton, he taught over 10,000 students. His expansive and often irreverent lecture classes, delivered from the podium of Wheaton’s Holman Room in Mary Lyon Hall, drew upwards of 100 students into each class.

Students describe Mr. Goodman’s trademark routine of walking up the center aisle, plunking his things down, opening a window, loosening his collar, removing his gold watch, placing it on the lectern, and “letting the magic begin.”  Deploying an approach he called “personal education,” he was known for taking promising students under his wing. His unstinting mentorship extended over long post-class chats in his office, at Wheaton dining halls, and the Italian restaurants of Providence’s Federal Hill. Like an all-star coach, he inspired and guided hundreds of students into careers in government, law, and politics.

Typical mentoring relationships began with curt notes in exam blue books, such as his message to Fred Marcks, Class of 2002: “Grade 94.5. Brilliant but not perfect. Please stop by during my office hours for a chat.” Mary Anne Marsh ’79, a prominent Democratic political strategist and pundit, recently told the Wheaton Quarterly: “I walked into that great room in Mary Lyon where he held 101 and I felt like I’d found home. Just the room, the setting, his presence, his irreverence, his knowledge, his clear passion for politics in all of its forms—good, bad, ugly and glorious—I felt like I had found the place where I had always belonged. It was just a transformational moment in my life that set me on this journey. … It really allowed me to picture what my life could be.”

His unique process of leading students from the classroom into the American political scene was bolstered by his partnership with his wife of 25 years, Gail Berson, who served as Wheaton’s Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid until 2014. “I’m sending you another one, Jay,” was a frequent refrain as Berson and Goodman sized up a new crop of admissions candidates.

Courses he taught at Wheaton College included Introduction to American Political Systems; Urban Politics; Public Administration and Public Policy; Seminar in Urban Politics; Family Law; Torts; Criminal Law; Law of Sexuality & Gender; Media and Politics; Seminar in Advanced Political Media, and Introduction to Business Law. His themed game classes required students to choose real-world political figures to connect with and work with personally, and then to role-play those figures on teams inside the classroom. Spanning from the start of his teaching career, this approach predated the currently popular ideas about gamification and collaborative learning by a half century. As a political practitioner, he was a sought-after strategist at Democratic campaigns.

His contributions included general campaign strategy as well as hands-on work in policy, speech writing, TV and radio commercials, and analysis of public opinion in polls and focus groups. The long list of campaigns that called Mr. Goodman into service includes Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign; Ed Muskie’s 1972 presidential campaign; and the successful campaigns of Gov. Frank Licht, Lt. Gov. Richard Licht, Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy, Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino, and US Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Goodman attended the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention. He had been slated to be a Kennedy delegate, but due to Kennedy’s assassination switched his status to McCarthy delegate. He described the convention as “beyond insane.” When his son was born a year later, he and his then-wife, Ellen, named their child “Robert Francis,” in Kennedy’s honor. In civic life, Goodman held many leadership positions that helped shape the experience and culture of Rhode Island and Providence. Under Gov. Garrahy, he served as the volunteer head of the RI Emergency Management Agency which lead state operations in dealing with the Blizzard of 1978. At that time, Garrahy dispatched Goodman in a helicopter to scope out the scale of operations that would be needed to dig out the state from more than 27 inches of snow.

He was later appointed by then Providence Mayor Paolino to serve as Chairman of the Providence Civic Center Authority, a post he held from 1984 to 1992. At that time, the Civic Center was a $12-million-a-year, municipally-owned, 15,000-seat arena. During Goodman’s tenure as Chairman, the Civic Center became the 7th-largest rock-and-roll music venue in the country, hosting acts ranging from the Cars, to Bruce Springsteen, and the Grateful Dead. Mr. Goodman enjoyed helping to run the logistics of the arena, right down to improving the chair upholstery, and attended most of the shows.

He also served as a member of the Capital Center Commission, l992—2005, appointed by then Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. The commission was a joint city-state agency, helping to oversee key parts of the “Providence Renaissance” in urban planning, which included the construction of the Providence Place Mall, Waterplace Park, and the Riverwalk, now home to the city’s annual Waterfire events. After many years of serving as the pre-law advisor at Wheaton, Mr. Goodman was persuaded by his pre-law students that he ought to attend law school himself. In 1975, he enrolled in Suffolk Law School, and attended at night while maintaining his full teaching schedule. He completed the program in 1978 with his J.D. and was admitted to the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Bar Associations.

After graduating, he served as a federal law Clerk to the Hon. Francis J. Boyle, Chief Judge, United States District Court. He  went on to serve as a founding partner in a major RI law firm. Later he established his own small practice, and branched out into serving as a lobbyist at the RI Statehouse, with both corporate and labor clients. He successfully argued seven cases before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Mr. Goodman was born on January 16, 1940 in Saint Louis, Missouri, to Harold and Minnie Goodman. Both his parents prized education, and often talked about local and national politics over the dinner table.

His mother held a law degree, very unusual for a woman at the time, as did his father. For several years they ran a law practice together. Minnie later became a school teacher, while Harold moved on to help manage the family business in sporting and hunting equipment, at the downtown St. Louis store, “Goodman’s For Guns.” The store was beloved by hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, and provided Jay Goodman with his first workplace experience, assisting in retail. Mr. Goodman attended University City High School, where he served as an editor of the Tomtom student newspaper. He graduated in 1957 and went on to attend Beloit College in Wisconsin. He credited the personal attention he received from his Beloit professors as the inspiration to become a teacher himself. He also took note of the way the teachers immersed themselves in Wisconsin political campaigns, something he soon began to emulate as a member of Beloit’s Young Democrats.

He took to political campaign life immediately, as he told Wheaton Quarterly. “I liked the field aspects of it,” he said. “I liked meeting people. I liked talking about the issues. That was real work—you sent out brochures, you knocked on doors, you learned a lot.” While at Beloit, he also represented the school on the College Bowl quiz show on NBC. After Beloit, he received a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship and attended Stanford for his MA in political science. For his master’s thesis at Stanford, he focused on field research, through extensive interviews examining the politics and collective bargaining style of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on the Oakland docks. While at Stanford, he also formed what became a lifelong friendship with another Wilson fellow, George V. Higgins, who went on to become a famous Boston crime novelist. Mr. Goodman pursued his PhD at Brown University, becoming active in this school’s chapter of Young Democrats, as well, and cementing the connection to the RI political scene that influenced his decision to settle in Providence.

After graduating from Brown, Goodman was hired at nearby Wheaton College in 1965 at the age of 25. Within a few years he became the youngest tenured professor in the college’s history. By that time he was also heading the Government department, which he helped to position as a key component of Wheaton’s educational offerings. Mr. Goodman is the author of 9 monographs and books on politics, including the textbooks The American Democracy, and The Dynamics Of Urban Government and Politics. He also wrote dozens of book reviews for the Rhode Island Bar Journal and many articles about legal issues for other publications, including the Suffolk Law Review. Beginning in 2007, he also served as a guest lecturer on international issues at several leading universities in Turkey.

Mr. Goodman’s friends, family members, and colleagues knew him as uniquely caring, gregarious, and loyal. Goodman was often seen strolling around the East Side of Providence with his wife, Gail, and one of their beloved and very large canine companions. Goodman also spent time each summer relaxing on Nantucket at his and Gail’s shared island home. He was a member of both Temple Beth El in Providence and Nantucket’s Shirat HaYam.

Goodman is survived by his wife, Gail Berson, his son Bob Goodman (Naama Goldstein) and stepdaughter Jessica Weaver; grandson Amishai Goodman-Goldstein; and siblings Fay Cohen (Michael) and Suzanne Liss (Michael), as well as nephews, a niece, and cousins. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 6th at Temple Beth El, 70 Orchard Ave., Providence, RI 02906. Shiva will be observed at the family’s home in Providence, Wednesday 4-8, Thursday 3-5 and 6:30-8:30, Friday 2-5, and Sunday 3-5 and 6:30- 8:30 p.m.  In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in memory of Jay Goodman to support lung cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, P.O. Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284, or online at www.dana-farber.org/gift.