By Nicole Norfleet, Star Tribune
Bob Goff, who shaped public opinion and policy for a half century on matters as diverse as tribal sovereignty and the construction of the Metrodome in the Twin Cities, has died.
Goff died Wednesday at age 80 after briefly battling an aggressive form of cancer.
With the St. Paul public relations firm that became known as Goff Public, he played a behind-the-scenes role in many high-stakes public affairs issues. But still, he retained the warmth and wit of a man who understood the value of personal connections.
“You treat them well because there’s a lot of reasons why you should and there are almost no reasons why you shouldn’t, your employees, your customers, whoever it is you are dealing with,” Goff said in an interview with the Star Tribune last August. “This company has always done that. That part of it I’m very proud of.”
Robert Eugene Goff was born in 1936. He grew up in Staples, Minn., a small city about 30 miles west of Brainerd. He graduated St. Cloud State University in 1958 with a degree in social studies education and an emphasis on history. Goff went on to teach American history at Mounds View High School until 1963.
As a teacher, Goff became active in DFL politics. He worked on numerous political campaigns, including John F. Kennedy’s presidential run in 1960, many times helping with writing and placing advertisements for candidates across the state. After he left teaching, Goff became a senior aide to Gov. Karl Rolvaag, who served from 1963-67.
In 1966, the day after Goff helped Nick Coleman be re-elected to the Minnesota Senate, Coleman asked Goff to form an advertising agency with him. Coleman and Goff Advertising was established that month. Goff described Coleman as the more talented out of the pair.
“It was always a great wonderment to me that somebody would ask that I would write something,” Goff said.
Nick Coleman’s son, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said Goff was one of the most “wickedly smart and brilliantly funny” people that he had ever met and that it was no surprise why his father had chosen to partner with him. “I think in Bob he found a partner that understood the merger of his political life with the public relations side of it,” the mayor said.
Goff described the ad business in that era as the Wild West with “big bucks” being spent on advertising work done by out-of-town agencies. Goff said he and Coleman prided themselves on offering clients more affordable options.
The agency was one of Minnesota’s first public relations practices and served a range of clients, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Polaris and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
“Not only was he a very strategic political thinker, he was also in the business of public relations, marketing, figuring out strategies for clients,” said Roger Moe, a friend and former DFL state Senate leader. “He was without a doubt one of the best I ever watched.”
Moe said that Goff knew how politics came down to connecting with people. “He understood it was about friendships and knowing people,” Moe said. “He spent time getting to know people. … He was a great and dear friend. I’ll miss him.”
One of the things that state Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, will remember the most about Goff was his sense of humor and wit. “His humor was very funny and very biting,” said Cohen.
In 1977, Goff sold his stake in the agency and served as the staff director of the task force on waste and mismanagement under Gov. Rudy Perpich. After two years, he went back to the public relations firm.
Goff would later use the breadth of his experience in politics to help lobby for the construction of the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
In 2012, Goff retired from the firm, but he joked he would still pop up in the office from time to time to check the corners and “look under the rug.”
“He was just really friendly and fun,” said his daughter Emily Goff. “I think he was fun to be around as a dad, and he was fun to be around as a boss.” Bob Goff was a family man who loved to read; his large collection of books was arranged by the Dewey Decimal system. “He was the self-made man that he was because he was such a reader,” Emily Goff said.
Last summer, the Star Tribune asked Goff if he would have changed anything since he was first asked by Nick Coleman to start the firm. “No,” he replied. “It started out more of a ride than I ever expected.”
Goff is survived by his wife, Phyllis; children Cindy, Paul, Carolyn, Laura, Bill, Emily, Matt; and numerous other family and friends. Funeral arrangements are pending.