CLEARWATER — His name is stamped on dozens of plaques and certificates that now cover multiple walls of his house. James C. Goss had served as president of the boards of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center and of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast. The governor of Kentucky had appointed Dr. Goss to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.
Dr. Goss had earned a doctorate and served as an associate dean of St. Petersburg Junior College (now St. Petersburg College). He had been inducted into the Kentucky State University Basketball Hall of Fame.
One of the highest honors, however, was one Dr. Goss had bestowed on himself — as "president for life" of an informal group of former Kentucky State basketball teammates who knew him as Lefty.
Dr. Goss, a prominent educator and civic leader who took charge of whatever came his way, died March 28 of congestive heart failure. He was 79.
"Wherever he went, he made an impact, and that impact cut across his entire life," said Michelle Ligon, a longtime friend.
Dr. Goss was a big believer in what he called "paying it forward," pushing young people to achieve. While teaching at Pinellas High in Clearwater, he arranged a Kentucky State basketball scholarship for one of his students. That student, the late Harry Singletary, went on to become the first African-American to run Florida's prison system. "I don't know if I'd be sitting here today if he hadn't done that," Singletary said of his mentor in 1995.
Dr. Goss believed he was only repaying benefits that had allowed him to succeed.
James Calvin Goss was born in 1934 in St. Cloud and grew up in Orlando. A three-time all-state point guard at Jones High, Dr. Goss won a scholarship to what was then called Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University).
At Kentucky State, he started for the Thorobreds all four years, making the all-Mid-Western Conference team in 1955 and 1956. He played basketball while serving in the Army, and was MVP of the Army Divisional Tournament in 1958.
He married Theresa Carter. Both would go on to earn doctorates.
Dr. Goss started at SPJC in 1975 as a social sciences instructor. Theresa Goss later directed the college library.
Each fall, he returned to Frankfort, Ky., for the Kentucky State homecoming, a chance to meet his former teammates and his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers.
One of his former teammates, Max Jameson, was drafted into the NBA and later played for the Harlem Globetrotters. (Jameson's twin brother, Scott, also a Kentucky State teammate, played for the Washington Generals, the Globetrotters' perpetual foil.)
In the early 1990s, the teammates, now in their 50s, decided to meet in Detroit. The long weekend went so well, Dr. Goss decided the group would meet every year, and declared himself its president.
"We said, 'Who nominated you?' " said teammate Lorenzo Harbin, 81. "He said, 'I'm president for life!'
"Sometimes we might think he's a little bossy, but we all respected that," Harbin said. "That was Lefty. He kind of kept things going."
He gave them all titles. The men met every year in different cities across the country. Since most of them were educators, they usually met during spring break. Over time, some former Thorobreds football players joined them, as did ex-basketball players from rival Tennessee State University.
Dr. Goss retired from SPJC in 1995 as associate dean of the college and director of its diversity program. He threw himself into civic involvement and golf.
Theresa died in 2006. Dr. Goss married Sylvia Arnett in 2007.
In 2012, the basketball alumni group met, again in Detroit, for the last time. By then some in the group had died. Others were just getting tired.
"You could tell by the ages, the guys were slowly passing away," Harbin said. "The guys didn't want to go 400 and 500 miles."
This year is different, however. With the help of Sylvia Goss, the teammates are looking at getting together in Louisville sometime in May. They will make one more trip to toast the memory of their president for life.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.