At his final regular meeting at the Sumner City Council, longtime councilman Leroy Goff received a standing ovation from all present.
“There is no one in town who has done as much as you,” said fellow councilmember Steve Allsop. “You’ve been an inspiration to me.”
Mayor Dave Enslow gave Goff a plaque commemorating his service. He sealed his gratitude with with a firm handshake and new nickname: “Mr. Sumner.”
When Goff joined the council in 1985, the seven-member group would gather in the upstairs meeting room of the fire hall. Budgets were smaller and times simpler, so it was easy to learn the ropes, Goff said.
He first joined the council after working on labor negotiations as a union president of a fiber company.
“I’d done a 360 and came over to the other side – now I was working with the employer, so that was different,” said Goff.
Reflecting on 26 years of service, 85-year-old Goff has nothing but thanks for the city he has called home all but 10 of those years.
“Sumner’s always been good to me. I raised my family here, raised all my kids through high school here and my wife and I made enough to live on. It’s been a darn good move,” said Goff. “I’m glad I was here and could serve the people of the city for the time that I did and I will still be here, till the end.”
In Goff's first years on the council, he leaned the civic-service ropes with with roads issues and balancing budgets. But he found over time that public safety always drew his attention and interest. He even helped launch the city's first D.A.R.E. program in 1991.
But midway through what eventually would be his two-and-a-half decades in public service, his wife Beverly was diagnosed with lung cancer. Through his sadness he found another civic cause: cancer awareness.
When Beverly succumbed to her illness in 1998, Goff found solace in helping other local families find support.
“I think the city council and Cancer Society gave me a lot of people to help keep my mind going,” said Goff. “It eased the pain. Those things kept me busy.”
Over the last 26 years, Goff has contributed his vote to countless issues facing Sumner, but he said none were as difficult as the decision to incorporate into Sumner’s law books this last June.
“When we had to vote to start cutting funds within the city… that’s the most discouraging [decision] I had to make,” said Goff. “But we had to, because of the economy. That was tough, it cost so many hard feelings. But like always, I had to stop and think about what was the best thing for Sumner to do, as a whole.”
Goff’s decision-making comes from a tried-and-true formula, he said. He looks at the past, the present and the future of a problem, and then analyzes his own feelings about it after reading as much as he can. The next step, he said, is the most important component: talking with as many people as possible to get a broader perspective.
“It can’t be something personally I might like or someone else might like, or a good friend of mine might like. Sometimes I’ve had to vote in ways opposite of my good friends, and that’s hard to do,” said Goff. “In the end, I have to vote for what’s best for Sumner.”
Goff remembers the first time he looked from the ridge now known as Bonney Lake down into Sumner, when he was only 10 years old.
“The view I had of the valley was a lot different than what it is today. That was only 75 years ago. What will it be 75 years from now? This tells me that I can’t imagine it – I couldn’t imagine what it would be at the time,” said Goff.
As a boy he lived with his aunt and uncle, who were seeking a better life after leaving Nebraska during the Great Depression. His mother had died in a fire when he was only two, and his father was always gone looking for work, so he was bounced around from family member to family member until settling in Sumner.
Goff skipped high school for the Navy, where he served two years on a light cruiser in the North Atlantic. Even while looking across the Bering Sea, Sumner was never far from his mind.
He met his wife on the corner of Main St. and Alder Ave., when he noticed her in a car with a bunch of girlfriends at a stop sign. He got her attention with a wolf whistle from the drivers’ seat of his hot rod and followed her car all the way down the street. They were married in 1949 and had three children – David, Roger and Roberta.
Goff held a number of jobs over the years to come, his favorite being the Merchant Marines.
“My wife made me quit,” he joked. “When the kids started coming, it just wasn’t the thing to do.”
His friendship with a former city councilman, Bob Rich, led to his career in public office.
What was the hot button issue that election year? Meters in police cars that managed radiology levels.
“We wanted to get them into police cars, so that if there was an atom bomb dropped off somewhere, we could measure its radioactivity,” said Goff. “Other than that, everything was just so much smaller, budget-wise and so on.”
Goff’s proudest accomplishment as city councilmember is the development of the 24th Ave. interchange – especially the addition of Sumner’s Holiday Inn. He supports local growth and looks forward to the Orton Junction, which he advocated for on the council.
Sumner’s allegiance with Cascade Water Alliance, said Goff, will prove to be the most important decision made today that will affect Sumner’s future, as Lake Tapps has been permanently perserved as a water source for Sumner, Bonney Lake and Auburn.
“These are water rights we can use for drinking water that will benefit Sumner forever,” said Goff. “It’s very rare that you get decide something that will go way out into the future like that.”
When he was Mayor, he used to take his key and unlock the door to the watershed, where he would eat his lunch and study the local issues.
“It’s like going back in history 100 years up there, I used to sit back in the forest and enjoy it,” said Goff. “That was a good place to get away.”
The most concerning issue facing Sumner’s future, said Goff, is the rise of drug and alcohol abuse in young people, which he’s realized after years of attending district youth forums.
“It continues year after year… you’ve got to train these kids while they’re younger and it will keep them out of incarceration later. We’ve got to take care of the youth, if we’re going to take care of anything,” said Goff.
While he will have fewer responsibilities in 2012, Goff still plans to stay involved in the many groups he has participated in through the years. He is working with the Puyallup/Sumner Chamber of Commerce to develop the “Welcome Home” program to encourage military families to relocate in Sumner, and will still serve on Sumner’s Military Affairs Committee.
He’s spending the holidays in Mexico with his son and has big plans for a trip to visit family in Annapolis in 2013, with a special visit to the Veterans Wall and National Cemetery already on the agenda.
He says he will continue to do behind-the-scenes work at City Hall, like collecting corn husks for Main Street’s fall streetlight decorations or planning upcoming events with local leaders.
Goff is optimistic about the addition of the two new councilmembers, Nancy Dumas and Mike LeMaster, who will take over his seat. Plus, if nothing else, LeMaster only lives about a block away, so Goff always knows where to find him, much like many of his other friends and associates.
“I’ll see you out in the street,” he said with a smile.
You can join Leroy and the rest of the Sumner community for a retirement party in his honor on Jan. 10 from 4-6pm in council chambers at City Hall.