Robert Merrill (Bob) Goodman died peacefully in his sleep in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 3, after a series of complications following a broken hip. He was 96. Bob was a devoted and adored son, husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend and talented artist, who will be sorely missed. He lived a rich, active, full life and left the world a more beautiful place. Bob was among the greatest of the Greatest Generation.
Bob was born March 10, 1925, in Caldwell, N.J., to Pearl Tennessee Loveman, a native of Nashville, and Emery Irne Goodman, born in Debrecen, eastern Hungary. Emery and his family came to the U.S. in 1900. He eventually attended Columbia and became a pharmacist. Pearl, known to the family as “Honey,” grew up in Birmingham, Ala. Her family relocated to the New York area after 1900. Bob was born in 1925, named for a cousin, Robert Loveman, poet laureate of Georgia. He grew up in Verona, N.J., as one of five children. Tragedy struck at age 12 — his father suffered a fatal heart attack after giving a speech at a dinner meeting in Jersey City. This devastating loss pushed Bob to exercise and watch his diet over his entire life. During the Depression, the family fell on hard times, and eventually moved to Atlanta. Bob attended high school at night, while working for his brother-in-law at Dixie Freight Lines to help support his mother and brother. He enlisted in the Navy in 1944, training in Bainbridge, Md., then serving as quartermaster on LSM and LST ships, transporting soldiers and equipment in the Pacific. His ship was part of the huge flotilla in Tokyo Bay, where Japan surrendered, ending World War II. A few days later, Bob went into Japan at Sendai, equipped with a sidearm and cigarettes as goodwill. Bob received the Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal. Bob was decommissioned from the USN in Bremerton, Wash., in 1946, then returned to Atlanta to reunite with his family. Seeing the Jim Crow South in new light after sailing the world, Bob moved back North, eventually enrolling at Rutgers on the GI Bill. In 1949, Bob met the love of his life, Sonia (Sonnie), a beautiful French-speaking brunette, who had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Belgium and was working at a family bakery near Newark, N.J. They met at a dance, fell in love and married on Sept. 2, 1949, first living in Flushing, N.Y., then moving to nearby Bayside. After graduating cum laude with a degree in history in 1950, Bob applied for a position at the recently chartered UN. He began work there in a clerical role, eventually working in the Fellowships office in the Technical Assistance Program, where he rose to chief, retiring in 1985. The purpose of the program was to educate students from developing countries, with the understanding that the students would then work in their home governments. Bob made many trips (“missions”) to Africa and other places, e.g., Bhutan. Bob and his team were recognized by Namibia for their impact in supporting their fledgling democracy and he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the UN in 2019.
Around 1950, Bob, largely self-taught, began painting, a lifetime passion and second full-time job. His art was greatly influenced by Corot, Turner, among others, and inspired by the dramatic and changeable beauty of nature. Bob’s art ranged from ink drawings of birds and animals to still-lifes, however most of his art was comprised of semi-abstract landscapes, painted with acrylics and watercolors and most of these inspired by the Maine coast — seascapes, lakescapes, with coastal mist and sunsets. Bob immersed himself in the New York art and music scene, attending and contributing to art shows and concerts by emerging folk singers. He co-founded the Matrix Gallery, one of the earliest artists’ cooperative galleries in the East Village. In 1959, Sonnie, Bob and their young son Emery visited MDI for the first time and, after vacationing in Maine off and on for the next 10 years, the family bought a cabin at the north end of Echo Lake. An adjacent building became his art studio. In 1970, Sonnie and Bob began the first of 50 consecutive years of summering at their Echo Lake cabin, from June to October, hiking, boating, relaxing on the dock, visiting with family and friends, sketching and painting. Bob’s art was frequently displayed in galleries and art shows in the region. He had eight one-man shows, mainly in the New York area, and numerous group showings from the 1950s to the 2000s. New York Times art critic Stuart Preston noted, “The semi-abstract imagery in Robert Goodman’s watercolors and inks at the Castellane Gallery … the artist takes off on virtuoso flights of draftsmanship and handling of medium that deserves high praise.” His prize-winning work is in many private collections, and 18 of his paintings are in the collection of AT&T.
Bob was also an avid handball player, swimmer, sailor, kayaker and astronomer who loved to travel and experience other cultures, beliefs, people and foods. He swam large lengths of Echo Lake well into his 80s and hiked into his 90s. While Bob lived life in a path-setting, unique way, he was happily known as for his part of “Sonnie and Bob.” Their strong love and support for each other demonstrated to many what a marriage could be. Their cabin porch, adorned with snacks coming out of Sonnie’s kitchen and perhaps wine, became the first stop on many vacationers’ trips to the area. They supported and encouraged young MDI artists. Bob loved children and was the devoted “Bobabob” to his grandchildren, Jeff and Ethan, who lovingly referred to him as “Zen Master.” He passed on to his son and grandchildren his adventurous spirit, laughter at a good joke, love of science, rational thought and physical activity in the natural world.
Bob was preceded in death by his loving wife of over 68 years, Sonia Helene Bjelinki Goodman, in December 2017 and siblings Hortense May Richman, Jolaine May Shickram, Marjorie May Robinson and Jack Cranston Goodman. He is survived by his son, Dr. Emery Goodman, and partner Jill Stein of Sugar Land, Texas, grandson and granddaughter-in-law Jeffrey and Lisa Goodman of Houston, Texas, grandson Ethan Goodman of Shanghai, sister-in-law Olga Leisman, many nieces and nephews and a large cadre of loving friends and neighbors. He leaves us with a rich legacy of his paintings, his deep appreciation of the natural world and universe, stories, love and wisdom. A memorial service celebrating Bob’s life will be held next summer on MDI, at which time his remains will be buried next to Sonnie at Brookside Cemetery in Somesville.