GLADYS ROGERS GOFFNEY HAS BEEN BLAZING TRAILS HER ENTIRE LIFE. AND THERE’S NO SLOWING HER DOWN TODAY.
In her sprawling, ranch-style mid-century house in Kashmere Gardens, there are photos, awards, certificates and mementos of a rich life very will lived. Here she is in a photo with the Obamas, here’s one of her with Morgan Freeman and here’s one from when she was named Miss Texas Southern University of 1954, when Jackie Robinson himself came to the ceremony to honor her. At 85 years young, the still-practicing lawyer is prepping for a court appearance in the morning.
Born in Washington on the Brazos (the first capital of Texas), she and her family moved to Houston in 1942 and settled in Fourth Ward. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1950, Goffney went on to college at Texas Southern University, where she majored in biology and chemistry – unexpected areas of study for a female, let alone a black female, at that time. “I had the idea that I
was going to become a doctor,” she says, “but with the gender bias and racial bias of medical schools at that time, I learned that there was no place for me.”
She married Willie H. Goffney in her fourth year of school, and after their first child was born, she went on to get a degree in medical technology from UT. “That program was open to women and blacks, so that became my first career, working at the V.A. Hospital in the lab doing research and analysis,” she says.
In the space of four-and-a-half years, the Goffneys had four children. Willie operated his own TV repair business, and the two of them became very active in their community. Goffney ended up working 16 years at the hospital, eventually become head of the Hematology lab.
But let’s back up: 12 years into her career at the hospital, Goffney decided she wanted to go to night law school. She started at South Texas College of Law in 1966, finishing in 1971. “Just two other black people had gone to that law school ahead of me, but one dropped out, so I’m the second black graduate,” she says. Goffney passed the bar in 1972 and has been practicing family law and probate as a solo practitioner ever since.
How do you raise four children while working full-time and going to school at night? “We all studied together at tables in the kitchen every night. They picked up my study habits. They were never without a book,” she explains. “Plus, my husband had his own business so he could take the kids back and forth to school and their activities.” Also, she says, “I never went to sleep.”
Whatever they did worked. Their oldest son went to Cornell and then Columbia for law school, and the second one, now an oncology surgeon, went to Harvard undergraduate and Harvard Medical School. Their daughters? The older one went to Wellesley and then Pace University Law and the younger one went to Stanford and then Harvard Med.
“All of my friends from TSU and all of my friends’ children were all super high-achievers. I think it was a product of the times and opportunities opening up to all. A lot of things helped, but failure was not an option,” she says. “It never has been.”
Is retirement an option? “Possibly…not,” she laughs. “I’ve got things to do.”