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Guido Goldman, a connector of nations and people, dies at 83

Along with collecting art, Dr. Goldman used his family’s wealth to support other areas of the arts.
Along with collecting art, Dr. Goldman used his family’s wealth to support other areas of the arts.David Elmes for Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University (Custom credit)

Guido Goldman held several titles over the decades, but he preferred to think of himself as a sort of academic entrepreneur, an “institution builder.”

He played a key role in establishing the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and though officially he was a longtime senior lecturer in government at Harvard, in the 1960s he also launched and directed the German Research Program, which evolved into what is now the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

Speaking to the Globe in 1976, he called himself “an action intellectual … someone more involved in management than pure theory,” and added: “I have the greatest respect for those who just want to be academics … But I’m restless. I want to build a life that is not in conflict with my nature, to be a dilettante in a very expert sense.”

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Dr. Goldman died Nov. 30 in his Concord home of prostate cancer. He was 83 and left a legacy that ranged from fostering international relations to cultivating lasting close friendships.

The German Marshall Fund, a policy organization based in Washington, D.C., which Dr. Goldman formerly chaired, emerged from his fund-raising for the Center for European Studies, which he had served as founding director.

He had traveled to Europe in the early 1970s and met with the finance minister of what was then West Germany, seeking what he hoped would be a $2 million gift to the center.

The United States had provided significant foreign aid to the country in the years following World War II, and “I said to the finance minister, ‘It’s just my feeling that Germany should say thank you for all this assistance,’ " Dr. Goldman said last year in an interview with the Harvard Gazette.

He recalled that the minister surprised him by replying: “I have in mind a gift of 250 million marks’ — which was $65 million.” Part of that went to the center and the bulk of the rest was used to create the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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“Guido believed in the power of the past to inform our present,” Karen Donfried, president of the fund, said in an online tribute. “He didn’t live in the past. He wasn’t one for nostalgia. But he did believe that remembering the past is key to navigating the present and setting a thoughtful course for the future.”

Born into a family of wealth and political friendships, Dr. Goldman counted among his acquaintances members of the Rockefeller family. Henry Kissinger, a former US secretary of state, was his doctoral dissertation adviser at Harvard and a lifelong friend.

His father was a founder and longtime president of the World Jewish Congress, and his connections provided Dr. Goldman with pathways to the powerful.

“I want to be frank,” Dr. Goldman said in the 1976 Globe interview. “If I were John Smith who had learned high school German and had a letter of recommendation from some obscure professor, I wouldn’t have gotten very far.”

Instead, he added, “I knew half of the German Cabinet on a first-name basis.”

Dr. Goldman also was an art collector, having grown up in New York City in an expansive Manhattan apartment filled with his parents’ Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

As a boy, he was drawn to a Wassily Kandinsky painting owned by a family friend. Kandinsky became Dr. Goldman’s artist of choice, and years later he wrote about a Kandinsky painting of men clad in brightly colored coats.

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“I would like to think that these coats were Bukharan chapans and that somehow Kandinsky had — during his years in St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Odessa — seen examples of these splendid Central Asian garments,” Dr. Goldman wrote in a catalog for a 1997 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, of his collection of ikat, a textile art.

Born in Zurich on Nov. 4, 1937, Guido Graham Goldman was a son of Alice Gottschalk, a painter whose wealthy family had a mail-order business. Dr. Goldman’s father, Nahum Goldmann, had been president of the World Zionist Organization along with helping found the World Jewish Congress, and he also helped persuade the US government to support the creation of Israel.

When Dr. Goldman was very young, his family moved to the United States, settling in a Central Park West apartment.

Martin Klingst, who is writing a biography of Dr. Goldman, told The Washington Post that the second “n” in the family name was dropped during the immigration process.

While Dr. Goldman was growing up, his family’s home was alive with the powerful and the celebrated. “People like Arthur Rubinstein played piano at the Goldmanns’, and Eleanor Roosevelt came by for dinner,” Klingst told The New York Times.

In the 1976 Globe interview, Dr. Goldman recalled that his “parents would say, ‘Mrs. Roosevelt is coming to lunch today. Would you please not play basketball in your room?’ "

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He played basketball at Birch Wathen School in New York, however, and was good enough to be named to the second team for all-city private schools. In those days, Dr. Goldman was so involved in plans to make money that “everyone always thought I’d be a businessman,” he told the Globe.

After Birch Wathen, he went to Harvard College, where he studied government and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1959. And there he essentially stayed, helping raise more than $75 million for his alma mater.

“I basically have been at Harvard since graduation — although with extensive and frequent leaves of absence,” he wrote in the 15th anniversary report of his class.

He spent a year in West Germany and then “returned to complete graduate studies — as slowly as possible! — in the Harvard government department, finally completing a dissertation under the direction of Henry Kissinger just as he departed for Washington,” Dr. Goldman wrote for another class report, in 1984.

“With Kissinger, I had launched the German Research Program at Harvard in 1967,” he added. “That subsequently grew into the West European Studies in 1969 and then the Center for European Studies some years after.”

Dr. Goldman chaired the US group whose negotiations with West Germany led to the creation of the German Marshall Fund on the 25th anniversary of George Marshall’s speech at Harvard, in 1947, that announced what became known as the Marshall Plan to provide aid to Western Europe to rebuild after World War II.

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Along with collecting art, Dr. Goldman used his family’s wealth to support other areas of the arts. When his brother, Michael, married a performer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dr. Goldman funded various expenses the organization incurred.

Dr. Goldman’s brother is his only immediate survivor.

A private graveside service has been held. The Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies will announce a celebration of is life next year.

“The core of my working life has been institution-building,” Dr. Goldman wrote in 1984.

He read newspapers in three languages and told the Globe he was fortunate “not to know where the line is” between his social life and professional endeavors.

“If I am having dinner in New York with, say, an ambassador and we discuss an activity that leads to something new at Harvard,” he mused, “is that work?”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.