Memories of My Friend Jerry Goffe

Classic Jerry, with a hummingbird feeder stuck on his forehead! (Photo by Ken Halvorsen)

Ken, a friend in Albuquerque, called me on Monday to let me know that our mutual friend Jerry Goffe passed away Sunday night. Ken and I talked at length about our favorite “Jerry” memories. I’ve known no one with a bigger love of life than Jerry. He was at his best when given the opportunity to teach; and Jerry had so much to teach us all.

When I met Jerry in 2003, he walked tall, and seemed like a larger-than-life viking of a man, with a handlebar mustache that was even wider than his smile. Later, after having surgery to remove one of his feet, I learned he had contracted polio in his youth. For years, he suffered a lot of pain; pain that became unbearable later in his life. He once told me he welcomed the amputation, the leg-brace, and the prosthetic, as he felt the pain and discomfort from the degeneration of his ankles was much worse. He relied on the use of his mobility scooter for the rest of his life. Such was his indomitable spirit, he never let it get him down or dampen his enthusiasm for life. If ever there was a model for the “Glass half full”, Jerry was it. I so much admired this quality in him.

He told me he enlisted in the US Army as a young man. Rising to the rank of Captain, he served on a competitive pistol shooting team. Jerry credited his sharp-shooting experience to his skill at gently squeezing the trigger. He carried that skill into his photography, where instead of a trigger, he pressed the shutter release button on his camera.

In the earliest days of his photographic journey, Jerry served under the tutelage of the masters of his day. These were days when View Cameras were king, and film was often 4×5 inches. His earliest career path led him into architectural photography, and though he distinguished himself in that occupation, he eventually found his way into the field of forensic photography.

I never heard Jerry speak about the blood and gore that I’m sure he had to endure during his forensic career. He enjoyed telling other kinds of stories. He had a nationally recognised reputation as the best in the business. He worked on a lot of high-profile cases, including the Ford-Firestone lawsuit over tire failures, and the McDonald’s Hot Coffee in the lap case that many of us heard about in the media. The Smithsonian and the Supreme Court have some of Jerry’s pictures hanging on their walls. He was president of the national organization of Forensic Photographers. He served as a judge on major photography contests, when the other judges were distinguished photographers such as Ansel Adams.

Yet to meet Jerry you might never learn these things; he didn’t bring up his illustrious past just to rub people’s noses in his glory-days. These, you had to pry out of him. Jerry preferred living in the moment, and his prism rarely failed to pull out the humor of the situation, no matter how tedious. 

I will surely miss his company, but I will always have the fondest of memories to recall; memories that I will always treasure.