An early advocate for public television, Hyman Goldin believed the relentless push for profit in commercial TV compromised the quality of shows that are designed to inform.
“A public affairs program or a news analysis sometimes will deteriorate as it passes through the various stages of production because the producer is seeking desperately for some device to increase its rating,” Dr. Goldin wrote as executive secretary for the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, which produced an influential 1967 report that helped lead to the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“In the end,” Dr. Goldin wrote, “commercial television remains true to its own purposes. It permits itself to be distracted as little as possible from its prime goal of maximizing audience.”
Dr. Goldin, who was chief of the economics division of the Federal Communications Commission before becoming a communications professor at Boston University, died Nov. 21 in the Ledgewood rehabilitation center in Beverly of complications from a fall a few weeks earlier. He was 99 and previously lived for many years in Swampscott.
As his Carnegie Commission writings show, Dr. Goldin could take strong stands, but he often preferred probing questions, rather than definitive answers.
“He would express his opinion if you asked him, but I think he enjoyed listening to both sides and seeing how they played out,” said Robert Smith, a professor emeritus at Temple University in Philadelphia who chaired BU’s broadcasting and film department in the 1960s, when Dr. Goldin was hired.
Dr. Goldin was just as questioning about his own life.
A quarter century after graduating in 1936 from Harvard University, where he also received a master’s and a doctorate, he wrote for the 25th anniversary class report that he was having “second thoughts” about his alma mater.
Harvard, he wrote, “was fine as a high-grade trade school,” and studying there “assisted me to hold a reasonably responsible and rewarding position. For this I am duly grateful.”
At that moment in the early 1960s, however, his daughter Barbara, a talented pianist and the oldest of his four children, was slipping into mental illness. In that passage from his class report, Dr. Goldin wondered if a “high-grade” education had truly prepared him for life.
“In the more fundamental areas of education, which I can describe only imperfectly as understanding self, building character, fashioning moral values, finding meaning, Harvard left me untouched,” he wrote.
Four years later, his daughter Barbara killed herself. She was 18 and had been accepted to study music at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
“It was a shadow that weighed on him the rest of his life,” said Dr. Goldin’s son Jonathan, a psychotherapist in Amherst and Lexington. “It really fragmented the family, and also the extended family. The reverberations were large and lasting. When my sister committed suicide in 1965, there was no concept of teen suicide. There was no grief counseling.”
An only child born in New York City, Hyman Howard Goldin was an infant when his parents moved to Somerville, where he graduated from Somerville High School.
His birth name was Goldenstein, and he never really offered a reason for why he shortened it and changed the spelling, which he didn’t do until after several years after college.
“He considered Harvard the local school and he didn’t apply anywhere else,” his son said.
A commuter who walked to and from his family’s home and classes, he studied history and only changed to economics for graduate work after Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., a Harvard history professor, discouraged his aspirations to teach.
“Schlesinger said, ‘You’ll never get a job teaching history as a Jew,’ ” Dr. Goldin’s son said. “That was a story he told very often.”
In 1939, three years after graduating from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree, Dr. Goldin married Lillian Kantrovitz, whom he first encountered at the Boston Public Library.
The couple moved to Washington, D.C., to seek policy work during the New Deal initiatives of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, and raised their four children in Maryland.
Dr. Goldin was an agricultural historian for the government before working at the FCC. That agency and his career teaching communications at BU in a way were unusual parings, his son said, given Dr. Goldin’s feelings about the broadcast medium.
“He would watch TV with the sound turned off,” his son recalled. “He didn’t like the announcers and stuff. He hated commercials. He worked with the FCC and hated most of television, like a lot of people.”
At BU, however, Dr. Goldin drew respect from students for his exacting standards as he taught broadcast regulation and public policy.
“He paid a great deal of attention to evaluating their papers and talking with students,” Smith recalled. “He was known to be a demanding and inquiring faculty member.”
At home, meanwhile, following Barbara’s death “he was extremely tolerant of everything,” his son said. “There was never any judgment. Myself, my brother, my sister — we’ve all lived not necessarily very conventional lives.”
Dr. Goldin’s other son, Stephen, is a psychiatrist in Umea, Sweden. His daughter, Nan Goldin, who divides time between Paris and New York City, is a photographer whose much-lauded work includes subject matter that often is challenging or explicit. Several years ago, part of her exhibition “Chasing a Ghost” took as its subject her sister’s suicide.
In addition to his wife, who lives in Peabody, and his children, Dr. Goldin leaves two grandchildren.
During a eulogy delivered at his father’s service the day after Thanksgiving, Jonathan spoke of Dr. Goldin as “an introvert who … has that natural ability to screen out things he doesn’t want in favor of things he does.”
Dr. Goldin’s humor, he added, “was always in keeping with the best Jewish tradition of self-deprecation, of not taking himself too seriously.”
Weaving whimsy with a wistful look back, Dr. Goldin wrote in 1986 that “it’s a bit like an invitation to write one’s own epitaph” when alumni are asked to compose a note for a 50th class report: “Here lies Hyman Howard Goldin, lover of his wife, his daughters, his sons . . .”
Speaking of himself in the third person, he wrote that he “delighted in reading, listening to music, digging in the garden, and walking by the ocean holding hands with his wife” but “suffered grievously from circumstances that were beyond his power to master.”
And yet, Dr. Goldin added, he “could not give up hope and persisted in believing that within people there burns a spark of redeeming humaneness.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached email@example.com.