fb-pixel Skip to main content

Herbert N. Goodwin, a former Brookline District Court judge, defied the symptoms of multiple sclerosis every day as he struggled to walk into the courthouse where his passion was helping juvenile offenders.

“He was a very caring guy who made a difference,” said the Rev. Bob Gray, who was a probation officer.

A judge for 12 years and a former attorney with the US Justice Department, Mr. Goodwin worked closely with Gray to design community service plans for juvenile offenders.

Mr. Goodwin came up with reading assignments chosen for each offender’s skill level, and he battled plans to move the court’s juvenile session away from the community.

Advertisement



Known for his gentle humor, love of baseball, and devotion to Brookline, where he lived most of his life, Mr. Goodwin died June 26 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of pneumonia and complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 80.

Diagnosed 35 years ago, Mr. Goodwin came home after hearing that he had multiple sclerosis and listened to a favorite song, Don McLean’s epic “American Pie,” according to his family.

It was a tune he and his three young daughters often sang while dancing around their dining room, belting out its reference to the 1959 death of musician Buddy Holly as the day the music died.

In that moment, Mr. Goodwin decided that his illness would not define him, he told his family. “And it didn’t,” said his daughter Carolyn of Jamaica Plain.

For his daughters, she added, watching Mr. Goodwin cope with MS taught them how to face life with courage, compassion, and humor.

Mr. Goodwin, who formerly served as a Brookline Town Meeting member and had worked with what was then the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, had long made fairness for all a goal. In 1976, while he served on the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, seven black customers reported that they were not allowed into a Back Bay discotheque. Mr. Goodwin and the other two commissioners announced they would seek information on other such incidents.

Advertisement



“The time has long since passed where public officials should tolerate this,” Mr. Goodwin said at the time. “A slap on the wrist will not stop this, but a threat to the livelihood will stop it.”

Born in Brookline, Herbert Naradoff Goodwin was the younger son of Joseph C. Ginsberg and the former Belle Fisher. His father was an engineer and his mother was a legal secretary.

Mr. Goodwin was a child when his father died, and his family moved into a housing development near Coolidge Corner. Boys in the area formed a group calling themselves the Egmont Dukes. Mr. Goodwin remained friends with his Egmont Dukes pals throughout his life and was still having weekly lunches with several members.

“He had a great mind and a great personality,” said Harris Coles, a friend since grammar school. “He was a people person. He loved his family sincerely and he also enjoyed being with his friends.”

Mr. Goodwin once claimed his decision to study law stemmed from his older brother Richard’s trickery in the toy box when they were children.

Richard Goodwin, who was three years older and now lives in Lincoln, drew up a contract and got 5-year-old Herbie to hand over his View-Master in exchange for Richard’s erector set. Mr. Goodwin hadn’t learned to write his name, so Richard had him make an X. “All fine and square, until the next day, I wrote up a second contract, exchanging that same erector set for his red truck,” Richard said in a eulogy at Mr. Goodwin’s memorial service.

Advertisement



By the end of that formative week in childhood, Mr. Goodwin had given up all of his toys to his older brother and was left with only the erector set.

Both Goodwin brothers later graduated from law school. Mr. Goodwin began practicing law and Richard became a presidential speechwriter for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

After completing his undergraduate work, Mr. Goodwin attended Harvard Business School and graduated from New York University School of Law. He spent four years in the US Justice Department’s tax division, served as an assistant US attorney in Boston in the mid-1960s, and later practiced law privately.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Goodwin led the tenants’ council in Brookline and successfully fought for a townwide system of rent control. He also served on the Democratic Town Committee, advocated for zoning changes in North Brookline to protect residential areas, and was elected to the School Committee.

In 1973, Mr. Goodwin became chief of the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office under Robert H. Quinn. He was appointed to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission in 1976 and later became chairman. In 1990, Governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed him to be a judge.

The job was “the absolutely perfect position for such a good and decent man, a man with a deeply grounded innate sense of fairness,” his brother said.

Advertisement



“He was just a mensch of a guy, so warm, so funny,” said Mr. Goodwin’s sister-in-law, the author Doris Kearns Goodwin. “I really felt close to him all those years.”

She admired her brother-in-law’s determination to enjoy life even as illness increasingly limited his mobility and his eyesight. He listened to books on tape, went out to dinner, and kept following the Red Sox. “He had that will and vitality,” she said. “He loved living still.”

A service has been held for Mr. Goodwin, who in addition his daughter, brother, and sister-in-law leaves his wife, the former Rhoda Sherman; two other daughters, Joanne of Washington, D.C., and Lauren Berkowitz of Watertown; and a grandson.

Writer Robert David Jaffee, who was a boy when he met the Goodwin family, published a tribute to Mr. Goodwin for the Huffington Post.

Jaffee recounted the assistance Mr. Goodwin provided when Jaffee was diagnosed in 1999 with schizophrenia. Mr. Goodwin reminded Jaffee to take his medications and calmed his paranoia.

“As soothingly as possible, and with the prescience of Red Auerbach, Herb then said to me, ‘There are some things I can’t control. But there’s one thing I know. Nothing is going to happen to you,’ ” Jaffee wrote. “Those were extraordinarily kind and reassuring words from a man who had almost unlimited compassion and strength.”


J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@mac.com.

Advertisement