Edwin L. Goff, 76, a retired associate dean, philosophy professor, and director of Villanova University’s honors program, died April 22 at his Havertown home from coronary artery disease.
Dr. Goff was credited with increasing the university’s academic reputation through its honors program, said his son Phillip Atiba Goff.
He “grew the honors program from a small operation to a national model for undergraduate achievement, stewarding dozens of students through successful applications to Rhodes, Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholarships,” said a statement provided by the family.
During his 20 years of leadership, the statement said, more Villanova students won prestigious fellowships than in the 153 years prior.
“Villanova was considered a regional school before he took over the honors program,” his son said. “Now it is ranked in the top 50 universities nationally.”
Dr. Goff, who held a doctorate degree in philosophy, began teaching at Villanova in 1970, and remained at the university for 45 years until he retired in 2015.
Over that time, he was appointed associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and in 1995, he became director of the university’s honors program, a post he held for the last 20 years of his time at Villanova.
Dr. Goff was also a founding member of the National Association of Fellowship Advisors, which focuses on the role of fellowship advisers in higher education, convening advisers, faculty, administrators, and foundations.
Dr. Goff was born Aug. 11, 1945, in Wichita, Kan., to Leo and Gertrude Goff. He was the younger of two children.
His parents, originally from Arkansas, moved to Wichita to work in a bomber factory during World War II.
While he was still an infant, the Goff family returned to North Little Rock, Ark., where he grew up.
In high school, Dr. Goff ran track and was a serious baseball player who was offered both a baseball and an academic scholarship. However, he worried that if he got injured while playing ball, he might lose the scholarship and could no longer afford to go to college, his son said. So he accepted the academic scholarship to Vanderbilt University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1967. He went directly from Vanderbilt to start his doctoral program at Boston College the following fall.
His son said Dr. Goff had also been a very good math student but chose to major in philosophy because “he wanted to ponder the questions of: ‘How do we live together? How do we set up a moral society?’ He wanted to wrestle with the logic and the right outcomes of morality and social issues.”
At Vanderbilt, in 1965, Dr. Goff began to volunteer for the Upward Bound program, which provided tutoring services and college life experiences to high school students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Through his work with Upward Bound, which was hosted at Fisk University also in Nashville, Dr. Goff met the woman who would become his wife, Florence Withers, a college sophomore at Fisk who was from North Carolina.
His wife said Dr. Goff arranged to join her Upward Bound four-member team. Each group was then assigned to tutor high school students.
She remembers noticing him in their student meetings: “Ed was quiet, but when he spoke he always had something very insightful to say.”
He was white and she was Black and the two were married in December 1968, just 18 months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, which overturned state laws banning interracial marriages.
At the time, Florence Goff said, they were not even aware there were laws against interracial marriages.
“My family met him and accepted our engagement and accepted the situation,” she said. “His family was not so accepting.”
Goff said his father loved watching old, classic movies, taking silent walks in the woods with his family, and being playful with both adults and especially with his granddaughter, Lucia.
“He thought being playful was essential to allowing the brain to learn,” his son said. “If you stop playing, you stop being curious.”
In addition to his wife and son Phillip, Dr. Goff is survived by another son, Gregory Ibata Goff, one granddaughter, and several nieces, nephews, and other relatives.
A memorial celebration of life will be held from 11 a.m. to noon on Sunday, June 12, at the Willows Park Preserve, 490 Darby Paoli Rd., Villanova, Pa. 19085. Interment will be private at Valley Forge Memorial Gardens.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggested memorial donations may be made to an educational fund for his grandchildren.