Locals remember the legacy of Murray Goff

Murray Goff and his wife Kathryn Spearin. Courtesy photo.

By Jack Kintner

Murray Goff, local retailer and lifelong Blaine resident, died last week at the age of 91 following a short illness at the Good Samaritan Center-Stafholt.

Goff operated the century-old family business, Goff’s Department Store for over 56 years in downtown Blaine. He succeeded his father, C. T. Goff, who bought the dry goods business in 1915. The store closed on Goff’s retirement in 2009.

Murray and his wife, Kathryn Spearin, were married for over 71 years in a union that produced four children, 13 grandchildren and, so far, 17 great-grandchildren. A fifth child taken into their home, Theresa Corona, became their adopted daughter.

Exemplary members of what newsman Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation,” people who provided the backbone of those who fought and won WWII, Murray and Kathryn Goff were known for their gracious hospitality both in their Bayview Avenue home and their store.

With their collection of old Blaine newspapers and other antiques alongside an impressively contemporary stock of clothing and accessories, it was a place that treated everyone well, strangers and old friends alike.

Goff family photo.

“I learned everything I know about retail from Murray,” said grandson Colin Hawkins, owner and operator of the popular Border Brew on H Street. “He treated even his bad customers well, and he had a few doozies! But mostly people came by to shop in a relaxed place where they could also, if they wished, sit down for a game of cribbage or just a long quiet talk about the old days. It was a special place you only find in small towns like Blaine.”

The Goffs’ home on Bayview Avenue was also a center of constant activity for family and friends. Summers saw their gently sloping lawn turned into a water slide for neighborhood kids, and there were always games to play and puzzles to solve.

Their generosity extended well beyond simple entertainment at times when there were children who needed some stability in their lives. “Murray and Kathryn were happy to provide that. It seemed like there were always a few extras here and there at large family gatherings,” Hawkins said.

Murray and his son, Greg, who passed away in 2014, were skilled tailors as well as salesmen and astute business managers. Following service as an aerial photographer during WWII, Goff enrolled in a class paid for by the GI Bill at Bochnaks Men’s Store in Bellingham. The class covered most aspects of operating a retail clothing store, from business management to window dressing and tailoring, and it paid off. Over its 110-year history Goff’s store was always in the black, with records kept by hand and sales rung up on a 1909 National Cash Register that Goff’s father acquired when he bought the place.

Murray Goff hard at work. For more than 56 years, Goff operated Goff’s Department Store in Blaine.

“My tailoring instructor was Abraham Cohen, a small Jewish man from eastern Europe,” Goff said in one interview, “and even though we had a table to work on he’d sit on top of the table with his legs crossed and work the material on, his lap. Old habits die hard, I guess,” he laughed.

The store, unchanged since the early ’60s, fairly dripped with history, with a large collection of old Blaine newspapers dating back to the early years of the Woodrow Wilson administration on display and available to thumb through. His management style was based on trust and graciousness.

Murray’s quick wit was also well known. “He was a good man with a needle,” said son-in-law Charlie Hawkins. “Whether he was using it on you or altering a shirt.”

Goff was quite athletic in his younger days, said son-in-law Charlie Hawkins. “He was an excellent badminton player and water skier. The family used to have water skiing parties at the base of Semiahmoo spit, where the park is now, with half a dozen boats on warm summer days.”

He was also a bow hunter, mostly for deer out on Birch Point, and loved fishing, locally for salmon with occasional trips north into British Columbia for trout fishing in remote lakes and streams.

The Goffs were also sailors, beginning in 1968 with a wooden-hulled sloop named Adria before moving on to owning their beloved Newport 30 “Four Winds,” which they sailed in the San Juan and Gulf islands.

Neighbor Sue Sturgill talked about the Memorial Day camping outings the Goff family would hold on Sucia Island, joined by their children and grandchildren and friends in an annual Memorial Day weekend flotilla.

“Those trips were a lot of fun, always a lot of kids, too. We could turn them loose and know they’d be safe, because we were on an island,” she said. With a half-dozen or more boats, the group would take turns fixing and sharing meals.

Murray Goff’s life stretched back to the days when the Peace Arch was still new, when the only paved road in town was Peace Portal Drive and Blaine rivaled Bellingham as a center of commerce and industry, with several mills and canneries. The lighthouse at the entrance to Drayton Harbor was still an actual house on pilings out in the bay and would be for many years.

His passing closes a chapter in Blaine’s life. He will be remembered for the example he set daily as a gentle caring man whose warm-hearted nature helped to make this town a good place to live.

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