It’s no secret that government workers are sometimes the topic of not-so-nice jokes. Whether it’s on the federal, state, city or town level, it seems to be a cherished American tradition to question their work ethic when we need a scapegoat for things we don‘t like. But woe be it to the unfortunate wretch who makes one of those jokes when Jackie Goff is nearby! In fact, that very thing happened in a grocery checkout line, and her icy response resulted in profuse apologies. Not a shy person, this Jackie Goff.
Born in central Illinois, she was the baby of a family of six. After a short-lived marriage fresh out of high school, she started college when she was 22. She loved to read and solve word puzzles, so a legal degree, “…seemed like a natural choice.” She not only attended law school, but did so when she was still an undergraduate, earning her BS in ’71, and her JD degree shortly thereafter.
Jackie wasted no time leaving Illinois for Columbia, Md. exactly two days after graduation. It wasn’t long before she landed a job with the General Accounting Office. But on the eve of her first day, her father passed away. It was her intention to stay in Illinois, but her mother knew better. “You worked hard to get this job. Go back and do it!”
Jackie worked at the GAO during the Watergate scandal, and was fascinated by the high-energy atmosphere of the Nation’s Capital. After spending three years with the GAO, she became a trial attorney for the Department of Justice, litigating cases involving civil fraud.
This is Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, after all, so we need to back up a bit. Jackie came out in college and was never uncomfortable with her sexuality. But that was the early ‘70s, and many people—especially those in government service— could not let their rainbow flags fly. She limited her socializing to private parties and gatherings with friends. Those of us of a certain age remember those days well.
1977 marked the dawn of the Department of Energy, and Jackie landed a position with the offices of legal counsel, interpreting laws as they applied to the fledgling DOE. But her thoughts never strayed far from the DOJ, and in ’78 she became the special assistant to the assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice. During her third year in this significant position, she was “loaned” to the National Association of Attorneys General. This exclusive organization of a scant 54 people consisted of the attorneys general of each state and territory of the United States, whose dealings required lawyerly opinions regarding staffing, purchases, etc. She traveled to 23 states and such far-flung places as the Northern Mariana Islands (one of the U.S. island territories). She was impressed by the knowledge and dedication of her co-workers, and her personal experience refutes much of that grocery checkout line commentary mentioned above.
In 1983 she frequented a beach house here in Rehoboth Beach. Though all her friends partied at the Renegade, she preferred to arrive alone to dispel the impression that she was coupled—with a man or a woman. (In those days at the Renegade that could mean many things.)
In 1999, Jackie took a position in the office of the secretary of the Department of Transportation, responsible for coordinating the conveyance of hazardous materials. After 9/11 she became the senior representative for a committee of experts that worked with private industry to control how and where hazardous materials were moved. During that time, Jackie became involved with the Federal Bar Association, and in 2000 became the fourth female to be president of that 80-year-old society.
Goff is particularly proud of her service to the D.C.-based Mautner Project, providing a wide range of support for lesbians with cancer and other serious illnesses. In 2013 the Project became part of Washington D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health.
Jackie retired to Rehoboth around 2005. On July 4th, 2007 she met Mary Vogt, a contract specialist for Booz Allen Hamilton, the eminent management consulting firm. Sparks (and, quite literally, fireworks) flew, and the women took up residence in Kings Creek. Mary still works in Rockville, Md., and these self-proclaimed snow birds love to winter in Florida. The women have since downsized here in Rehoboth and enjoy a simpler life at Camelot.
Jackie’s stellar 28 years in government service, (including professional and advisory positions too numerous to list) earned her the Distinguished Career Service Award, the highest honor bestowed for accomplishment by the Department of Transportation.
Jackie enrolled in law school because she liked to read. A few years ago, during a sleepless night working crossword puzzles, she invented Spellen-Meister; a fact-based spelling and vocabulary game. Though it seems that reading, spelling, and punctuation are becoming lost arts, the game is quite popular and is available locally at Kid’s Ketch. “I’ve always played word games,” said Goff in a 2010 interview. “My career as a lawyer tied in very nicely with my love for reading and research.” With people like Jackie around, maybe there’s still hope for the lost arts of spelling and punctuation.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek