Colleagues and students recall Peter Goldsmith
On May 16, the Oberlin community gathered in Warner Hall for a service honoring the life of the Dean of students Peter Goldsmith, who passed away in the end of April. Among the many family members and friends there were some students who either knew Peter or had only heard about him.
“I didn’t even know him,” a student said after the service, “but I am glad I came. He sounds like a wonderful person.”
The service was organized in a way that commemorated the life of Peter Goldsmith, not his death. It was a touching sequence of stories that represented the person, the friend, the father and the husband as well as the teacher and the dean.
Everybody who participated in the service had their own story to tell, their own memories of Peter Goldsmith that they wanted to share as they were saying good-bye.
The service started with music performed by Marilyn McDonald, Ronald Pandofi and Peter Takacs and ended with few bluegrass songs performed by Chris Eldrige, Stephanie Rooker, Evan Childress and Andrew Conklin. Music, which was an important part of Peter’s life, was one of the main features of the service.
Other participants included President Nancy Dye, Director of Counseling Center Charles Ross, Theater and Dance professor Carter McDonald, Creative Writing professor Lynn Powell and students from various classes. All of them spoke about Goldsmith as they had seen him in their encounters with him. Nancy Dye remembered an e-mail Peter sent her about a cello student who had broken her leg and his desire to do whatever is needed to make her feel better.
Goldsmith’s father George also read his reflections and expressed his gratitude to everyone who supported his son in his last days and helped with the service.
“The loss of a child causes heaven and earth to shut down,” he said. “It causes us to question fairness, and dream of what could have been. But we’re here to appreciate Peter.”
These are some of the stories from the service and beyond.
Peter Goldsmith was my close friend in two different communities, during two different phases of our lives. One of my first memories of Peter is from January 1, 1987, when my husband Dan Stinebring and I had invited our Princeton neighbors, the Goldsmiths, over for a Southern good luck New Year’s Day supper.
Both couples were expecting our first babies, though the mystery baby who was soon-to-be-Joanna-Goldsmith was already a week overdue. Peter was the first northerner I’d ever met who not only knew about the Southern tradition of eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, but partook of that black-eyed pea and salt pork dish without any coaxing.
When Dan and I woke up the next morning, we found on the living room floor an exuberant, handwritten note that Peter had slipped through our mail slot in the middle of the night. It said, “Jumpin’ Jehosophat and Hoppin’ John, we’re off to the hospital!” Joanna was born that day, and so was Peter’s most joyful calling in life: being a father.
Peter was a nurturing, empathetic father, who also had a playful sense of humor, and sometimes Peter’s children Ben and Joanna were his witty collaborators. When Ben was 6 or 7 years old, and looked like a mini-Peter, his dad, then the Dean of First Year Students at Dartmouth, took him to an orientation dinner. Peter had written a short speech on index cards for Ben to practice in the car. When they arrived, Ben climbed up on a chair and earnestly delivered the speech, introducing himself as the Dean and welcoming everyone to college. At the end of his speech, Ben said, “And now here’s some old guy who thinks he’s the Dean of First Year Students and seems to want to talk to you, too.”
My fondest Oberlin memories of Peter are of long bike rides together, long talks over cups of tea in my kitchen, and Sunday night suppers of his famous made-from-scratch, gourmet pizzas. I loved the Sunday mornings when I’d get a call from Peter telling me that it was going to be a pizza night and that I should bring the salad and the beer.
Before Peter and his family moved to Oberlin, my husband and I visited them at their home in Hanover, New Hampshire, where we were spending a couple of days bicycling. Fran and Peter welcomed us warmly and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with them and with Ben and Joanna.
When Peter and Fran arrived in Oberlin, I remember vividly spending time with them and sharing their concern over their traumatized cat who had disappeared somewhere in the new house. We were all very relieved and delighted when Daisy emerged, as Peter and Fran were very worried about explaining the missing cat to Ben and Joanna who had not yet come to Oberlin from their summer camp. From our first meeting with Goldsmith family, I knew that Fran and Peter cared deeply about their children and about their children’s well being. I was always touched by Peter’s tenderness towards them and the impressive insights and understanding he brought to his role as father.
As a colleague, I admired Peter’s ability to listen, to analyze, and articulate important thoughts clearly and compellingly. He had a strong vision for student life at Oberlin and enjoyed much success, along with occasional challenges, in bringing his ideas to life.
I miss him very, very much.
Raphael Martin, OC ’02, said he and Goldsmith became instant friends over discussing Goldsmith’s book, “Making People’s Music.”
“In that very moment, I am quite positive, Peter and I sealed nothing less than a cosmically arranged, old-hillbilly-music-loving, Ray Charles and Better Carter worshipping, Gillian Welch music adoring, book, film, and family obsessed, New Yorker magazine-addicted, Jewish-suburban-short-male-displaced-to-the-hinterlands-of-Ohio type of connection,” Martin said. “It was the beginning of an investment of time and effort whose dividends of friendship and mentoring would make me a rich man indeed.”
George Goldsmith said he’d been thinking recently about something he called “Secular Immortality.”
“Every human encounter exchanges something unique between each of us,” Goldsmith said. “The exchange results in something from each party being preserved in the other. Sometimes the exchange is saved, sometimes it is deleted to save memory space, and sometimes it is passed on.
So each of us is carrying something of Peter. His immortality will grow and grow, and it behooves each of us to build our own secular immortality carefully.”