Deceased January 5, 2007
Chris Goff passed away in Haverford, Pa., on Jan. 5, 2007, after struggling for more than two decades with Multiple Sclerosis. Chris is survived by his wife, Elinor, to whom he was married for 39 years; his brother, Steve ’73; sister-in-law, Marian Carlson; his mother-in-law, Dorothy Ives; and Elinor’s siblings, Richard and Don Ives ’69 and Carolyn Dingman.
Chris was born April 11, 1945, in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Swansea, Mass., on the shore of Mt. Hope Bay. He graduated from the Providence Country Day School, distinguishing himself in marksmanship and beekeeping, prior to enrolling at Amherst. While at Amherst, Chris was one of a small group of students who majored in biophysics, a new multi-disciplinary major. As biophysics majors, we participated in what was an exciting and difficult major, requiring proficiency in biology, chemistry and physics. The reward for this considerable amount of work was the extraordinary attention that we received from the faculty from the three departments. We would spend many evenings discussing various topics in biophysics in the homes of various faculty members. In this group, Chris stood out as one of the stars. He did his Honors research project in the biology department with Prof. Henry Yost, where he also met Dr. Philip Ives ’32, a research scientist in biology and his daughter, Elinor, who would later become his wife. Chris pledged Alpha Theta Xi and was later elected president.
After Amherst, Chris went to graduate school in biochemistry at Harvard, where he did his Ph.D. work under the direction of Dr. James Watson. Chris studied the structure and function of the RNA polymerase of the bacterium E. coli, the enzyme responsible for RNA synthesis, and its modification by the bacterial virus T4. He did post-doctoral work at the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Cambridge, England, where he worked with Drs. Francis Crick, Sidney Brenner and Andrew Travers and showed that even simple yeast have histones much like higher organisms. Following his graduate and post-doctoral studies, Chris joined the faculty at Haverford College, where he was an outstanding and dedicated teacher of molecular biology. During a sabbatical leave from Haverford, he worked at Collaborative Genetics Inc., a genetic engineering company in Waltham, Mass., where he became head of one of the Molecular Genetics Divisions. In spite of the lure of a full-time research laboratory position, Chris went back to Haverford to continue teaching undergraduates, a job at which he excelled and thoroughly enjoyed.
In 1980, Chris was diagnosed with an undefined neurological problem, which was finally identified in 1986 as Multiple Sclerosis, a slowly progressive and incurable autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheaths of the nerves. In the 25th Reunion Book, Chris made the following comments: “I’m only teaching part time this year and will have to go on long-term disability in June since I’m now unable mentally and physically to teach full time. Needless to say, this is quite a blow, and I’m having real difficulty dealing with both the mental and physical changes caused by MS. My Amherst education has not helped here.” Chris attended the 25th Reunion and continued to live at Haverford for the next 15 years. I have often heard from Haverford undergraduates when they came for interviews for graduate and medical school about Chris’ excellence in teaching. Although I have not seen Chris since shortly after we graduated, I have followed his career and received updates on him from his brother, Steve, and sister-in-law, Marian, my colleagues at Columbia. When Chris passed away, Steve wrote me the following message: “I guess I mourn his passing for many reasons, but especially for the loss of a dedicated teacher, and maybe marking the end of the era of his type.” Chris was deeply committed to science, to teaching and to his students. He will be missed by all who were lucky enough to work with him at the bench and to learn from his lectures.
Ron Liem ’67
Steve Goff ’73