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2015 Lifetime Achievement Award: Sam Goforth

Written By: Chris Eversole

Sam Goforth epitomizes the best of Old Gainesville and personifies our growing community today.

His heritage traces back to his greatgrandfather, Luther Columbus Gracy, who settled in Gainesville in the 1880s. His grandfather, Samuel Harn, was a longtime community leader.

Goforth followed the family’s footsteps, and his accomplishments, helping forge what Gainesville is today, form a lengthy list including:

• Serving as the co-leader of the Council for Economic Outreach’s 2006 capital campaign, which provided the foundation for growing and attracting a bevy of business that has enhanced the area’s economy over the past decade

• Worked with Dr. Win Phillips on the North Florida Technology Innovation Center. This was a working group trying to assist UF spinoffs in the 1990s.

• Holding leadership positions in many organizations, including the Jaycees, March of Dimes, the United Way of North Central Florida and the University of Florida Foundation

Goforth, who spent his career in banking, retired a year ago, finishing his career as strategic project manager for Wells Fargo in Florida.

His contributions over the years have now earned Goforth the Lifetime Achievement Award, part of the 2015 Impact Awards presented by Business in the Heart of Florida.

Santa Fe College President Dr. Jackson Sasser described why Goforth deserves recognition.

“When I arrived in Gainesville almost 14 years ago, there was a person I could almost always count on being at any public meeting,” Sasser said. “I learned quickly that if the community wanted an altruistic project or program completed, Sam Goforth received the call. He is the consummate community leader.”

Following Family Heritage

Goforth grew up in Ocala, where his father, Harold Goforth, had founded a savings and loan, served as the chamber of commerce manager, helped establish the United Way and assisted in expanding the Marion County Public Library.

“When I came into the business world, community involvement was second nature,” Sam Goforth said. “You’re supposed to participate with the United Way. You’re supposed to participate with the chamber of commerce.”

Goforth graduated from UF in 1971, and he began his career as a loan collector with First Federal Savings and Loan of Gainesville.

“I quickly realized that collecting delinquent loans wasn’t fun,” he said. “You can get overwhelmed by people’s problems. I was so looking forward to making a loan to help somebody buy a house.”

In 1976, Goforth was promoted to manager of the Northwest 23rd Avenue branch of the savings and loan, which had been renamed First Federal of Mid-Florida.

Goforth, who was in his mid-20s, looked even younger.

“People would come in and think I was a Buchholz High School student working part time,” he said. “I always got a kick out of it.”

Early in Goforth’s career, C.B. Daniel joined First Federal as executive vice president, beginning a long-term working relationship between the two.

“I observed C.B., and he had a tendency to get over-involved,” Goforth said. “I decided to take a more moderate approach; being involved in three things at a time was enough.”

In addition to his father and Daniel, Goforth also understood the community involvement of his grandfather, Samuel Harn, who at one time owned the College Inn in Gainesville, had worked at Baird Hardware and served as a chamber of commerce manager.

Based on the influence of his three mentors, Goforth adopted an unselfish approach to being active in the community.

“When the community gets better, you don’t say ‘that happened because of what I did,’” he said. “If you go into it looking for that, it’s going to fail.”

His career took him to DeLand and Ocala for several years. Goforth returned to Gainesville in 1995 as area president of First Union Bank — replacing Daniel, who then retired.

Goforth saw many changes in the banking industry, starting with Florida National going through a series of acquisitions that concluded with Wells Fargo taking over in 2009.

Throughout his career, Goforth was enthusiastic about helping people, from homebuyers to local companies.

“Although I’ve been involved with financing some big projects, the smaller projects were the bread and butter,” he said. “I enjoyed making a difference in helping a business grow.”

Preparing for Today

Goforth worked with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and other groups in growing the local economy, with an emphasis on commercializing UF inventions. He recalled a meeting about this endeavor:

“A group of us were sitting around and trying to remember UF spinoffs. There had been Gatorade back in the ‘60s but not much since then.”

The group set the goal of attracting one new UF business spin off annually. This goal seems modest in hindsight.

“The kids today are spinning off businesses right and left in their dorm rooms,” he said.

The efforts to attract business to the Gainesville area got a major push through the Council for Economic Outreach’s 2006 capital campaign, which Goforth cochaired with longtime community leader Marilyn Tubb.

Tubb said she enjoyed working with Goforth on that project and many others.

“There is no one more interested in, and supportive of, efforts to make our community better for all who live here,” she said.

“He jokes a lot and is fun to be around, but he should never be taken lightly,” she added. “Sam is a serious, smart and thoughtful man who focuses on doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

Through the years, Goforth has also worked closely with Ed Poppell, who was formerly UF’s vice president for business affairs and recently headed the development of Innovation Square.

“Sam Goforth is a personal friend not only to many of us, but he is also a great friend to this community we call Gainesville,” Poppell said. “It is a much better place because of Sam.”

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