Steve Charles—From the line that stretched all the way out the door of the Caleb Mills House and the variety of professors, staff, and administrators that packed the place, you might have thought it was the president, not his administrative assistant, who was being honored at Wednesday’s retirement reception.
But no one knows better than the people who work here just who the women are who keep the place running—as the The Princeton Review said with high praise of Wabash—“like butter.”
And no one has done that with more disarming grace—working for two presidents with such different personas and styles—than Carolyn Goff.
(Click here for a photo album from the reception.)
Andy Ford traveled from Wheaton, IL with former First Lady Anne Ford to honor this daughter of a Russellville, Indiana farmer whom he hired when he began serving as the College’s 14th president in 1994.
“From day one we noted the professionalism that you brought to the job and to the College,” Andy said. “What we didn’t realize was that it was wrapped in such incredible patience.” He smiled, adding: “Which we, on rare occasion, put to the test.
“You were always there, being a friend to everybody. Discrete. Always making impeccable judgments. We had a great time here at Wabash, and you were at the very heart of it.”
First Lady Chris White may have gotten the biggest laugh in an afternoon not short on humor when she presented Carolyn with an art pin with the likeness of Kokopelli, a deity which, she acknowledged, is venerated by some Native American cultures as a fertility god. That statement prompted Carolyn’s husband, Gary, to snatch the box holding the pin in a mock attempt to keep it away from his wife.
As the laughter subsided, Chris referenced Carolyn’s love of Southwestern art and explained: “You have given life to so many of our events here, and certainly been the heart and soul of our work with so many different constituencies. You’ve been a wonderful leader in the president’s office.”
Carolyn’s current boss, President Pat White, called her “my assistant, my advisor, my memory, my sounding board, and my pal.
“Within her kindness and generosity resides a cool sense of reason, a tough commitment to do things well and to do things right, a political savvy, and an indefatigable energy all wrapped up in an enormous love of the College.
“As much as she’s loved this College, she’s loved the students even more,” Pat said as he turned to Carolyn. “You’ve helped so many on this campus. We’ve relied on your sense of organization, and your commitment to the students as the center of the College. You made the president’s office a warm and welcoming place, you’ve made this president a better president than I could have been without you, and Wabash College and all who work here owe you a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised when Carolyn spoke the most moving words of the afternoon with a poise few people could muster while at the center of such an emotional occasion.
“I’ll never forget any of you, and I’ll never forget Wabash,” she said. “There’s something about each one of you that makes you special—that’s why you work here.”
The sincerity with which Carolyn spoke those words and has lived them out during her time at Wabash may be her greatest gift. “A generosity of spirit,” Andy Ford called it. The ability to see something special in each one of us while graciously overlooking or forgiving the “not-so-special.”
The office of the president of a country, corporation, or college—like any place of power—can be intimidating. Carolyn’s hospitality reminded anyone walking in that door that it was also a human place, and that good things can happen, especially at Wabash, when people sit down for a conversation face-to-face.
Perhaps it is Carolyn’s disarming way of seeing and bringing out the best in others that brought all those friends and colleagues to the Caleb Mills house yesterday. Or just the sudden realization of how much we’re going to miss her voice and warm greeting when we walk into that door.