Remembering Stephen Goldman, “an institution” at MIT
- August 7, 2023
Last fall, Stephen “Steve” Goldman passed away at 59 after a courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Prior to his passing, Goldman had worked at MIT for more than 30 years, first with Information Systems and Technology, then for the Computational and Systems Biology Initiative, and then in the Department of Biology.
“Steve was an institution,” says Stuart Levine, director of the BioMicro Center in the biology department and Goldman’s supervisor for more than a decade. According to Levine, Goldman was the type of person who had his “whole being” wrapped up in the job: “He did a little bit of everything, and that’s really hard to find these days.”
Steve Goldman was one of the first hires for the fledgling BioMicro Center, according to former supervisor Peter Sorger, whose is now the Otto Krayer Professor of Systems Pharmacology in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. Goldman, Sorger says, was essential for setting up the Department of Biology’s first server-based computing system.
“He brought great enthusiasm and skill to the role, and I also appreciated his sangfroid and sense of humor. This was essential because we were inventing the center’s infrastructure and mission on the fly and were often in the dark — and also down in the steam tunnels. Steve was a real pioneer,” Sorger says.
Before coming to MIT, Goldman lived in New York and worked on Wall Street. He met his wife of 32 years, Brenda Goldman (née Mahar), on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
“He came up to me in a white tuxedo and asked me to have dinner,” Brenda Goldman recalls.
They clicked immediately. Around the time of their wedding two years later, Brenda had found a job in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they were both eager for Steve to find work in the area, far from the high-stress environment of Wall Street.
“I found an ad at MIT and I said, ‘This sounds very much like you,’” Brenda says. After several interviews, he found out he’d gotten a job at MIT the day before their wedding — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Whether it was a weekend or a holiday, if Goldman got an alert that something was wrong, he would always try to follow up, fix the problem, or go in to offer hands-on help, according to Levine.
Brenda even accompanied him a few times, noticing that “there was always somebody around who waved or said hello. We couldn’t get out of the building without seeing someone, no matter which building it was,” she says.
Former department head Alan Grossman recalls many casual conversations about sports, especially baseball and softball.
“He always greeted me with a warm smile and ‘Hello, professor,’” Grossman says. “He truly loved working in our department, and we miss him.”
Goldman’s second love, according to Brenda Goldman, was refereeing sports. Steve would often get to work early so he could wrap up in time to referee or umpire games.
“He had something for almost every season of the year except winter,” Brenda says. “He liked it for the exercise, but he also liked it because it got him off his office chair and interacting with people.”
Steve Goldman was organized — but his workspace was notably less so. It was notorious for being filled with stuff — piles of memory sticks, CDs, cables, and devices open and in various stages of repair. However, Brenda says, “If you told him something broke, he knew what pile of things to pull the magic out of to make it work.”
Levine says Goldman’s death came as a bit of a shock: He had been answering emails just days before his passing.
“He always, always loved working for MIT,” Brenda Goldman says. “He loved computers, and the work gave his life purpose.”
Following his death, the Department of Biology made a contribution in Goldman’s memory to the ALS Association of Massachusetts. In addition to Brenda, his wife of 32 years, Goldman is survived by his children Kevin and Jason Goldman, in-laws, and many nieces and nephews.