Donald Goodman, a longtime philosophy and sociology professor, musician and anti-violence advocate, died July 21 in his St. James home after a battle with diabetes and pancreatic cancer. He was 81.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Lithuanian immigrants, Goodman began playing piano in local jazz clubs at age 15. He later used performance proceeds to pay for studies at Yale University, where he and friend Denis Mickiewicz formed the Yale Russian Chorus and played Russian folk and religious music, according to the family.
In 1958, a year after graduating with a bachelor of arts degree, Goodman traveled with the chorus to the Soviet Union in a cultural exchange.
After a year in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar, Goodman taught philosophy for seven years at Oyster Bay's State University College on Long Island, which would become Stony Brook University.
Goodman's wife, Margo, was one of his students at Stony Brook, and remembers him as "this amazing '60s teacher who listened to the students."
He earned a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University in the late 1960s, before beginning to teach sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he remained for about 45 years, until the age of 80.
"He maintained a kind of objective way of dealing with problems and people -- always asking questions rather than giving answers," his wife said.
She said that attitude was rooted in Goodman's time with the Yale Russian Chorus and lasted through his teaching career and his work in criminal justice and advocacy.
Goodman's work with police officers at John Jay inspired him to volunteer with the New York-based nonprofit Alternatives to Violence Project. He and Margo would run two- or three-day workshops with prisoners in the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, holding discussions, role playing, and helping develop ways to avoid violence among prisoners.
"It just went along with the way Don was -- just being open to whoever," Margo Goodman said.
Active well into his 70s, Goodman hosted yearly Christmas and Fourth of July parties and traveled to France each summer to visit his son, John, of Taizé.
His son described him as "a great reader" who started each day with The New York Times crossword puzzle. "He was really kind of a thinking person, too," he said.
John said his father always gave those he was with his full attention -- be they students, fellow sociologists, or prisoners.
"He was always trying to open windows for people," he said.
Along with wife and son, Goodman is survived by his sons: Robert of Larchmont and Luke Youree of St. James; and daughter Daphne Youree Djordjevic of Brooklyn. His first wife, Maria (née Tscherne) Goodman, died in 1981.