×

Longtime Amherst volunteer, Habitat co-founder Goodwin dies

  • GEORGE GOODWIN

  • George Goodwin being honored in 2013 with the renaming of the Trustees Room at Jones Library. —Submitted Photo



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 01, 2018

AMHERST — George Goodwin, a longtime community volunteer whose service is recognized with a room named in his and his wife’s honor at the Jones Library, and who helped found the Pioneer Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity, died Saturday, Oct. 20. He was 97.

A political science professor for 40 years, at the University of Massachusetts flagship campus in Amherst from 1947 to 1962 and at the UMass-Boston campus from 1965 to 1986, Goodwin retired back to Amherst in 1987 and once described his commitment to volunteering as “a habit that gives general pleasure.”

“He was a good citizen in every way for the town, the university and the library,” said Lewis Mainzer, a friend for 65 years who himself serves on the same Friends of the Jones Library committee that both George and his late wife, Ellen Goodwin, had been part of. “Everyone who knew him found pleasure in his friendship and saw him set an example of doing the right thing.”

In December 2013, a month after Ellen Goodwin’s death, the room on the third floor of the Jones Library, where trustees meet, was named for the couple in recognition for being instrumental in the success of the town’s library system. The Ellen and George Goodwin Room features a photo of the couple prominently displayed over the fireplace. At the time of the dedication, George Goodwin was given a ceremonial key to the 1928 building.

Austin Sarat, president of the trustees board, said that Goodwin loved the Jones.

“His dedication to and support of the library were unparalleled and are irreplaceable,” Sarat said.

Sarat said he first met Goodwin while both were serving on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and he was struck by his unusual combination of intellect, good judgment and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

“George believed in public service and believed that those who serve need to remember that they are not there to advance a private agenda,” Sarat said.

Coincidentally, Goodwin’s death comes as Amherst is about to embark on a new form of government. Goodwin was one of the lead architects of the Town Manager Act, adopted by Amherst voters in February 1953 to give Amherst a professional government.

While a Town Council, replacing the Select Board and Town Meeting, and serving both legislative and policymaking functions, begins in December, the new charter adopted by voters in March retains the town manager position to administer daily operations and implement policies.

Nancy Eddy, a former member of the Select Board, said Goodwin was always glad to have been chairman of the committee that led to the town manager, which began with Allen Torrey in 1954 and continues to 2018 with Paul Bockelman.

“George Goodwin was one of Amherst’s elder statesman, a thoughtful and articulate voice of reason who cared deeply for the town and its residents,” Eddy said. “He was a gentle man with a subtle sense of humor and always had a twinkle in his eye.”

Eddy added that she will miss Goodwin’s regular letters to the Gazette urging readers to support various candidates for the U.S. Senate, both in Massachusetts and other states. His most recent was published in July, co-signed by Amherst resident Rhoda Honigberg, and included “the following suggestions for those of you who would like to see Democrats control Congress next year,” with the names and campaign committees for incumbents such as Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Joe Donnelly in Indiana, as well as others running, like Phil Bredesen in Tennessee and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona.

In 2000, Goodwin’s volunteer service earned him the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce’s Millicent Kauffman Distinguished Service Award, Amherst’s version of the Citizen of the Year. That was largely for his role with Habitat, both as president of the chapter’s board of directors and chairman of its fundraising committee.

Habitat Executive Director Megan McDonough said in an email that Goodwin was a standout in helping to build the first several homes and providing financial support before there was paid staff, and that his legacy will continue.

“The Pioneer Valley Habitat that exists today would not be the organization that it is without early volunteers like George Goodwin,” McDonough said.

Goodwin was involved in other civic affairs, including being a member of the vestry at Grace Episcopal Church.

Mary Hocken, a member of Grace, said both George and Ellen Goodwin cared for plants along the edge of Spring Street in an area since renamed the Goodwin Garden, and that they were both active participants in the Flower Festival at the church. “They’ll be greatly missed,” Hocken said.

Before leaving Amherst to teach at the University of Rhode Island and to found the political science department at the just opened UMass-Boston, Goodwin served on the Amherst Planning Board and was an elected Town Meeting member. When he returned to Amherst in 1987, he was appointed to the Special Acts Review Committee and joined the Friends of the Jones Library.

Mainzer recalls having Patriots Day picnics with the Goodwins and their five children, often on cold, damp April days.

“They were so unpretentious and a wonderful couple,” Mainzer said. “It was a great privilege to have him as a friend over the years.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.