Jay Goodman, professor and RI political aide, dies

75-year-old taught at Wheaton College for 50 years; also advised Garrahy, Muskie

Jay Goodman teaching in his classroom. (photo credit: Wheaton College)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Jay S. Goodman, a legendary professor at Wheaton College in Norton for 50 years and a fixture in Rhode Island politics for nearly as long, has died. He was 75.

Goodman’s death was announced Sunday by the college. The cause was lung cancer.

Goodman died at the close of his 50th year teaching at Wheaton. He joined the faculty of its government department in the fall of 1965, when the school was all-female, and he remained there for the rest of his life, through its transition to co-education in 1988 and the renaming of his department as political science.

“Professor Goodman was, and is, a Wheaton legend,” Wheaton President Dennis Hanno said in a campus email.

“Jay Goodman made extraordinary contributions to Wheaton during his 50 years, combining service with scholarship,” Wheaton Provost Linda Eisenmann said in a statement. “An engaged teacher, he taught thousands of Wheaton students, was a committed mentor, tracked changes in legal training as pre-law advisor, brought the world of politics into the classroom, and supported his colleagues in our communal work of collegiate teaching.”

Goodman became one of the best-known members of Wheaton’s faculty during his five decades teaching the roughly 1,600 students on its bucolic campus, famous for his blunt style, encyclopedic knowledge of politics, and the close attention he paid to the talents, prospects and careers of his many students.

Goodman was also a familiar face in Rhode Island Democratic politics over the years.

He advised a number of prominent politicians, including former Gov. Joseph Garrahy, former Lt. Gov. Richard Licht and former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr. Goodman served as chairman of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority when Paolino was mayor. He was the Rhode Island chairman of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, attending that year’s infamous Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and served on the staff of Ed Muskie’s unsuccessful 1972 White House bid.

(When Goodman turned down Muskie’s post-campaign offer of a job on his U.S. Senate staff, the position went to future Secretary of State Madeline Albright instead.)

“Under Governor Garrahy, he served as the volunteer head of the RI Emergency Management Agency which led state operations in dealing with the Blizzard of 1978,” according to Wheaton. “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.”

A native of St. Louis, Goodman received his bachelor’s degree from Beloit College in Wisconsin, his master’s from Stanford University and his Ph.D. from Brown University. He later earned a law degree at Suffolk University.

Goodman is survived by his wife, Gail Berson; his son Bob Goodman and stepdaughter Jessica Weaver; his siblings Fay Cohen (Michael) and Suzanne Liss (Michael); his grandson Amishai GoodmanGoldstein; as well as nieces, nephews and cousins, the college said.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Temple Beth El in Providence. The family will observe shiva at its home in Providence. In lieu of flowers, they asked that donations be made in his name to the lung cancer research program at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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