Most Southern Nevadans probably know Carolyn Goodman only as the wife of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.
What they probably don’t know is that, within the 40-acre universe that is The Meadows School, Oscar is the supporting spouse and Carolyn is queen.
Goodman is an effortless combination of stylish sophistication and blue-collar hustle as she dashes through the hallways of the college preparatory school she helped found more than 25 years ago. As she passes, teachers offer comfortable greetings, young students offer shy smiles, and parents — attending school today for a nearly-end-of-year Reading Day– absolutely gush.
Carolyn Goodman is no shrinking violet anywhere. But, it seems, it’s here — not at social functions, not at political events, not in the public eye she tolerates but doesn’t particularly embrace — that Goodman feels truly at home.
Beth Miller, chief operating officer of the UJC Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, knows Goodman as both an educator — her daughter is a Meadows grad — and through Goodman’s work with the federation and in the community.
With The Meadows School, Goodman “raised the bar in the education arena” in Southern Nevada, says Miller.
“She’s a dynamo. She’s warm and she’s engaging and she’s inspirational,” Miller says. And, “if you need to get something done, she’s the person.”
Goodman grew up in New York City in a family high-profile enough that her mother’s kin appeared in Stephen Birmingham’s 1967 book, “Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York.”
Her mother, a Bryn Mawr College grad, established and ran the Bryn Mawr book shop in Manhattan and worked as a volunteer in Harlem. Her obstetrician father had a great sense of humor and a love of sports. He passed along both to his second daughter, who admits to being “sort of a tom-girl growing up.”
After high school, Goodman enrolled at Bryn Mawr. During her sophomore year, her roommate set her up with a Haverford College student named Oscar Goodman.
It didn’t go well. Carolyn liked confident guys, but thought Oscar a bit too brash and full of himself. It wasn’t until Carolyn’s senior year that her path and Oscar’s again crossed. This time, things went better — so much better that they dated, became engaged and, to her parents’ displeasure, married in 1962.
The couple moved into a small Philadelphia apartment. Oscar began working as a part-time assistant district attorney, while Carolyn — who’d acceded to her parents’ offer after graduation to delay the wedding and attend secretarial school — took a secretarial job.
One day, Oscar was asked to meet with Las Vegas police officers who were working a murder case involving a Philadelphia woman.
“He came home at 2 in the morning, a rainy night, and I’m sleeping because I’ve got to get up to go to work,” Carolyn recalls. “He says, to me, ‘What do you think of moving to the land of milk and honey?’
“I wake up, and I’m thinking, ‘My god, he’s gone mad. I have to move to Israel.’ “
Oscar explained that he meant Las Vegas.
“I said, ‘Whatever you want to do. I don’t care. Just let me go to sleep.’ So I went to sleep, and that was the beginning of the plan to move here.”
When the Goodmans pulled into Railroad Pass on a hot August afternoon to stretch their legs after a cross-country drive, they were packing 37 boxes of books, the bedroom set from their old apartment and a promise from Oscar to buy Carolyn a horse. (She was an avid rider until the birth of their first child.)
“I thought I was going to die from the heat,” says Carolyn, who remembers looking out and seeing nothing but rolling sagebrush and a cluster of buildings in the distance that turned out to be Fremont Street.
Carolyn, who’d grown up in the heart of Manhattan, thought about her husband’s career move. And, she says, smiling, “I thought I had married a blithering idiot.” The couple rented an apartment on East Sahara Avenue, a few blocks from the Strip, while Oscar began establishing his law practice and Carolyn worked in advertising and publicity at the Riviera. Among the job’s requirements: attending shows of everybody from Liberace to Barbra Streisand.
“I had a ball,” says Carolyn, who relished the departure from “this sort of semi-stodgy environment of New York City and Bryn Mawr.”
Meanwhile, Oscar’s career as a criminal defense attorney took off, along with his reputation as a so-called mob lawyer. But Carolyn never had any serious qualms about her husband’s clients.
“I have no idea where my centering came from, but I know what I am and I know who I am and I know what I don’t know,” she says. “That’s a big place to get to, especially when you’re young.”
Nevertheless, from the get-go, she says, “I said, ‘Do not get in bed with these people, do not socialize with them and don’t think for one minute I’m going to.’ “
The couple had the first of their four children in 1969. Carolyn returned to school, earned a master’s degree in counseling, and worked for several years doing drug, family and job counseling. Then, when she found that nobody else was doing it, she established her own business counseling college-bound high school students.
In 1978, prompted by her own search for schooling for her children, Carolyn began raising funds to create what would become the valley’s first nonprofit, nonreligious, private school. In 1984, The Meadows School’s first class met in trailers on 1 1/2 acres of loaned land at Decatur Boulevard and Meadows Lane.
As the school grew, it needed a larger site. One morning, Carolyn, then an avid tennis player, was invited to play with Fran Lummis. Afterward, Goodman — who had no idea who Lummis was — told her about the school and the search for a larger property.
Lummis suggested that Goodman talk to her husband, who turned out to be Will Lummis, chairman of the board of Howard Hughes Properties. Long story short: Lummis, the Howard Hughes family and Howard Hughes Properties donated 40 acres of land for The Meadows School. In 1988, the Lower School opened there, kicking off development of the now lush campus.
Goodman figures she’s spent nearly every workday of her life since then on the campus, whether as a trustee, head of school, counselor, all-around troubleshooter/supporter or various combinations of each.
“It’s such fun to get up in the morning and come here, because there’s nothing better than a family of people who love what they do,” she explains.
Isabelle Holman, Lower School director at The Meadows, has known Goodman for about 20 years. When the school opened, Holman says, Goodman would “do anything — wash walls, plant plants.”
Goodman had a tiny, closet-sized office in the school’s first building “and she was fine with it,” Holman adds. “She didn’t want big, fancy stuff. She wanted the money to go into the school. She just doesn’t put on airs.”
“Carolyn has a strong sense of values,” Holman adds. “She’s honest, and there’s no artifice there. When you talk to her at her house, in a public venue, anywhere, she’s exactly the same.”
Off-campus, Carolyn’s marriage to Las Vegas’ almost insanely ebullient mayor puts her squarely in the public eye. But, she says, “I’m very private. Oscar loves it. Oscar loves adoration.”
The couple’s marriage has made Carolyn an accidental student of the physics of fame. Through her husband, she has seen how being in the spotlight can turn someone into “an object of what people imagine they want you to be.”
“I couldn’t handle that,” she says. “That’s not me. I’m just really too private.”
Yet, she’s often called upon to speak at public events, “and 99 percent of the time they want to hear about Oscar, so I’ll tell them about Oscar.”
By now, they’ve got it down to a finely tuned Burns and Allen routine. During one recent event, for instance, “I said, ‘Those of you who are sitting out there, you think it’s a piece of cake being married to him. Let me tell you, every morning I have stand there and applaud for an hour to get him out of bed.’ “
“People like that,” Carolyn says, “and I don’t mind.”
In real life, the couple lives what Oscar calls a very Ozzie-and-Harriet existence. They begin their work days early so they can spend as much of their evening as they can at home. Their corner house in the Scotch 80s with the backyard koi pond and many pieces of art — some of them created by Carolyn’s mother — is a gathering place for their children and, now, grandchildren. Carolyn cooks, every day if she can, and, before dinner, she and Oscar share a cocktail (a martini for him, a vodka-something for her).
In conversation, they josh, joke and needle one another. As Oscar tells his version of their first-date story, Carolyn looks on with a sly smile, correcting him when she thinks he’s veered off-course.
They seem perfect for one another, if only because of this: If there’s one woman in the world who couldn’t be overshadowed by Oscar, it’s Carolyn.
The key to their 45-year-old marriage, each reveals separately, is respect.
“If we ever lost respect for one another, there’d be a problem,” Oscar says. “But so far, in 45 years of marriage, that hasn’t happened.”
“He’s my first, ‘What do you think?’ ” Carolyn says. “I trust his honesty.”
“Forty-five years is a long time. He married me when I was, like, 10,” Carolyn says, smiling. “So it’s been real interesting.”THE GOODMAN COURTSHIP
When he and Carolyn met, Oscar Goodman admits that it “was not love at first sight. It was disaster.”
“But,” he adds, “it was love at first sight the second time.”
Carolyn first met Oscar when her college roommate fixed her up with him during her freshman year. On the big day, Carolyn says, “he comes in with his entourage of whatever-they-were and his herringbone coat. I can still see it.
“Jan introduces me to this guy, and he looks at me, and I look at him, and I thought, ‘Oh, right.’ He was so taken with himself — duh! — and I thought, ‘Forget that.’ So we went on our way.”
Then, in the fall of her senior year, Carolyn enrolled in a class at Haverford College — Oscar’s alma mater — and discovered that he was an assistant in the class.
A week later, Oscar called Carolyn at her dorm. They talked for 45 minutes, Carolyn says, “at the end of which, he says to me: ‘It doesn’t sound like you have much of a personality.’
“I couldn’t believe it. Forty-five minutes. So I said, ‘Then what in heaven’s name are you wasting your time for?’ and slammed down the phone.”
Oscar called back — in a panic, she learned later– and they made a date. Oscar picked her up in a four-door black Oldsmobile and told Carolyn that his family lived on Philadelphia’s Main Line.
Carolyn always valued a sense of humor in a guy, as well as “a light heart and a half-full glass.” But, she says, smiling, she also figured “it would be just as easy to find somebody with those qualities who was honorable and good that was also somewhat well-off.”
Only later did Carolyn learn that both the Olds and the home were leased. Still, she liked Oscar’s confidence, his intelligence and his heart.
She also was impressed when she saw how well he related to his family. Carolyn jokes that it was during their first date, while watching Oscar with his younger sister, a then-aspiring 13-year-old ballerina, that “I knew he was a legitimate human being.”