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Ira Nathan Goff

Biography of Ira Nathan Goff

For many years engaged in the music business in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, Ira Nathan Goff performed a most useful service to his fellowmen in this field of endeavor, as well as in whatever enterprises he undertook in the course of his most valuable life. From a boyhood of very modest circumstances, Mr. Goff built up his position in life until he became a leader in the business world, and, furthermore, accomplished this end entirely by his own efforts and untiring labors. There was no phase of community life that did not enlist his attention and often his active participation, with the result that, in many different walks of life, he was most esteemed and respected; while those whose privilege it was to be his close comrades and companions regarded him as a delightful and helpful friend, one ever loyal to those whom he trusted, and steadfast in his ideals as in his human relationships. Strictest integrity, eagerness to help those whom he found in trouble, and a desire to do everything in his power for the public weal, he established himself upon a firm basis of leadership in the Providence community; and his death could not be thought of but as an occasion that marked a distinct loss to his city, his State and his fellowmen.

Ira Nathan Goff was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 20, 1849, a son of Ira D. and Amy S. (Woodard) Goff and a member of one of the city’s oldest and most honored families. His parents were both widely known and much respected citizens. His father died when Mr. Goff was only three years old, but his mother continued to live in this city until she reached the ripe old age of eighty-three years. Ira Nathan Goff received his early education in the public schools of his native city, and there proved himself an apt and industrious student. Upon completing his studies, he immediately set about the work of earning a living for himself and his family, and entered the employ of the firm of Barney and Son, thereby making clear to all his choice for his life’s work and placing himself in a position for learning all the details of the business in which he was destined to become outstandingly successful in the years to come. Here he applied himself diligently to the task before him; and, quick to grasp all the essential matters related to the music business, he established a firm place for himself in the affairs of Providence and its environs. The firm of Barney and Son were dealers in pianos; and the junior member, James H. Barney, had married a sister of Mr. Goff. Through that connection Mr. Goff became connected with the music business. At the time of his employment by this firm, its business had become greatly run down, but the vigorous and intelligent young man was soon placed in a responsible position, and it was not long before its affairs were beginning to improve. Eventually he once more placed it upon a sound basis. He remained only a few years, however, with the Barneys; and then, in 1876, set up a similar business of his own on Westminster Street on the site of Dimond’s present store and opposite the Boston Store. At this site he remained for more than ten years, in the course of which he developed the business to a point that rendered his old quarters inadequate. At the time when Mr. Goff started the business, he was engaging in an experiment; but so efficiently and so well did he bring it to a state of outstanding usefulness that he now admitted into partnership with him John O. Darling. The business name thereupon came to be Goff and Darling, a partnership that continued for thirty years and was only concluded then by the senior partner’s death. Not long after Goff and Darling was established, the firm moved into new quarters, at No. 268 Westminster Street, where it has remained from that day to this. The establishment has continued to grow steadily until it is now one of the important business enterprises of the city, whose reputation is one of straightforward and liberal dealing and whose place is second to none in its vicinity. This great and praiseworthy success has been largely the result of the high degree of business acumen and talent displayed by Mr. Goff and the masterly manner in which he has conducted the firm’s affairs.

Never was he in any sense, however, a man of narrow interests. For the whole public life of his city and State absorbed his attention. He early identified himself with a number of organizations and movements of importance. In his religious faith he was an ardent Congregationalism his parish having been Plymouth Church, in Providence. He was a liberal supporter of the work in which this church was engaged, especially in its philanthropic works, and his assistance was missed by this organization when Mr. Goff passed away. He also belonged to the Congregational Club, and was ever prominent in its activities. He also was a leader in the affairs of the Horticultural Society, of Providence, which did a great many things for the good of the city, and performed the useful task of setting out fruit trees and many ornamental shrubs and trees. Interested in all sort of civic and social life, Mr. Goff was also a student of politics and public affairs, was a constant supporter of the Republican party and its policies and principles, and was a man whose opinions exerted considerable influence upon the lives of others. He was, nevertheless, without personal ambitions for public office, having preferred at all times to devote himself exclusively to his own business and social undertakings. His greatest outside interests were probably those that he manifested at all times in horticultural activities, in connection with which he lost no opportunity to do what he could for the beautification of his city and its streets and parks, and in his lodge work with the Free and Accepted Masons, in which he belonged to the Blue Lodge, and St. John’s Commandery. It was all the more remarkable that he should take such a lively interest in affairs of a general nature, in view of the fact that he had been compelled to spend so much of his time in advancing his immediate end—that of the welfare and well-being of his own family and of making a place for himself that was secure in the commercial world. But when success came to him, he was not one of those men who, worn out with the struggle, are not able to extend their life’s activities into other fields; but, on the contrary, he broadened the scope of his career, did many things that he believed would be of lasting advantage to others—things from which he could not possibly derive personal gain.

Ira N. Goff married, in Newport, Rhode Island, November 19,1874, Mary Attmore Whaley, daughter of William and Abbie (Hazard) Whaley, of Newport, of which city she herself was a native. Mr. and Mrs. Goff became the parents of three children, who survive their father:

  1. William W., who is now living in Westerly, Rhode Island; he married Sarah Sheffield, of Westerly, and they have three children of their own: Robert V., Edgar S., and Mary Elizabeth.
  2. Mary H., who became the wife of Stephen S. Dalgarn, of Charlestown, West Virginia, where they now live; they, too, have three children: Stephen, Jr., Ira Nathan Goff, and Mary Elizabeth.
  3. Ira Nathan, Jr., who was superintendent of the Government plant at West Point, New York; he married Fern Fernholz, and is now engaged in the steel industry in Chicago; they make their home in East Chicago, Indiana.

The death of Ira Nathan Goff, the father of this family, which took place on February 6 , 1917. was a cause of widespread sorrow among all who knew him. He had been a leader in the business life of Providence and the State of Rhode Island, and here had won the rewards of diligent and successful endeavor. Never a man who sought the favor of others or tried to pry his way into public life, he established himself in the firm and sure place that was his merely through close and untiring application to duty and through constant, hard work. The world has heard much of “self-made men”; but that is exactly the term that describes Mr. Goff. For he was “self-made” in the very highest sense of that term, in the sense that implies development along cultural and intellectual lines as well as in the world of business. His was not alone a material success, but was a success that extended into his human relationships, and which made those who associated with him better for the fact that he had been their companion and friend. His habits and manners of life were exemplary, his conduct unimpeachable. As husband and as father, as well as in the capacity of friend and adviser, he was a most excellent man, and one who will be sorely missed in the Providence community and wherever he was known. But his memory will live on in the years to come, a pleasant and inspiring force in the lives of men who knew him, and an influence for good.

Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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