When Abe Goodman died in 1943, at the age of 79, The Commercial Appeal described him as “a man of many facets. Bankers knew him as an astute financier, real estate men relied heavily upon his judgment, and business leaders sought his opinions.”
But financial success was just part of his legacy: “To the children of Oakville Sanitarium, where he was the chairman of the board, he was a white-haired Santa Claus who brought them gifts and happiness. Scottish Rite Masons knew him as the treasurer of their organization. Golfers at the Overton Park links knew him as the man who donated and furnished their $25,000 clubhouse, and who had done much for the city’s parks and playgrounds during his terms on the Memphis Park Commission.”
The golf course, supposedly the first municipal (or public) course in the South, opened in 1906. The handsome clubhouse was constructed in 1926. The Tudor-style building featured a vaulted-ceiling dance hall, massive brick fireplace, snack bar, golf shop, and even an apartment for the resident golf pro. A Memphis Park Commission plaque mounted above the fireplace reads: “This building is presented by Abe Goodman to the City of Memphis, with the sincere hope that its use may bring added pleasure and happiness to those of its citizens who enjoy healthful outdoor life.”
So who was Abe Goodman, exactly? His father, Joseph, had come to America from Germany and began working at a jewelry store in Hernando, Mississippi. Abe was born here in 1864, and at a young age began working for his father. In 1891 he teamed up with a brother, Ben, and moved to Memphis, where they opened a high-class jewelry store on Main Street.
But Goodman wasn’t content simply selling rings and watches. He also started his own real estate firm, founded the Commercial Trust & Savings Bank, organized the Clover Farm Dairy, opened the Memphis Motor Car Company (one of this city’s first automobile dealerships), and organized the Memphis Hotel Company, which constructed the original Peabody, Gayoso, and Chisca Hotels.
He was also chairman of the board of the American Finishing Company and the Memphis Cold Storage Warehouse. What’s more, he served on the boards of the organizations that constructed the Mid-South Fairgrounds, Shelby County Jail, and Ridgeway Country Club. Whew!
Out of all these endeavors, his work with the Oakville Sanitarium was apparently his favorite. The Commercial Appeal observed, “One of his best feats was reacting to the little plays the children staged for him as if these plays had been Noel Coward productions. Friends have said that Mr. Goodman’s presence and love for the children were as good as any doctor’s care they might have received.”
Somehow he and his wife, Bobye, found time to journey around the world several times, making jaunts to Mt. Everest, Hong Kong, the Andes, Fiji, and — if you can believe the newspaper accounts — “the spot where the Garden of Eden was located.” Reporters followed their expeditions, and one newspaper described the Goodmans as “probably Memphis’ greatest travelers.” Abe once claimed that because he was so widely known anywhere and everywhere he went, “he was never in a country where he was unable to cash a personal check.”
He certainly wrote a lot of checks for groups in Memphis, and Abe Goodman is still regarded today as one of this city’s most generous benefactors.
Vance Lauderdale is the award-winning history columnist for Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. He has authored several books and is sometimes moved to research historical questions that interest him. He can be reached, occasionally, at [email protected]contemporary-media.com