Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Thanks to ‘The Cowboy’ for 28 Years of Service

Known locally as “The Cowboy” as often as by his family name, Falls Church native Butch Goff is retiring on July 1 after more than 28 years of City service. It’s hard to imagine what Falls Church will be – or would have been – like without him.

I first met Butch in the spring of 1984, when my older daughter was learning to walk. She and I were in front of our hou se when a City tanker rolled down the street with a couple of men who were spraying something along the curb. Figuring that it definitely wasn’t water, I asked them what they were doing. Told that they were spraying Roundup (that, Wyatt, is one City “service” we’re thrilled to forego!), I was too alarmed even to remember what they looked like. To this day, I maintain that I was extraordinarily polite when I asked them to get away from my child and yard, but Butch – ever sensitive to resident concerns – tells an elaborately embroidered version of the tale.

That must have been about a year after Butch joined Public Works. I didn’t get to know him until decades later, but I certainly saw him all over the place: setting up for City events, repairing water mains, planting thousands of trees, and then dealing with tons of leaves. When I walked during heavy snows, Broad Street was always clear because Butch was plowing. When storms closed school, we could still count on a good read because Butch and his team dug out the library and salted the sidewalk. As my children were growing up, Butch and his Parks and Landscape crew were replacing equipment and maintaining fields to keep the school and park grounds safe and fun.

West End Park didn’t even exist when I moved to Falls Church, but Butch’s team created a gorgeous spot along the W & OD trail. Across town, they landscaped Aurora House so it looks welcoming. I didn’t brave 15-degree Watch Nights, but my family and friends have enjoyed at least a dozen 4th of July celebrations that Butch and his crew readied and cleaned up after. For years I wished they’d stop bringing tables for the book sales that kept drawing me in, but I’ve finally been able to reverse the tide by donating part of my collection.

Sometimes I wondered how banners mysteriously appeared across very busy streets—until I noticed Butch’s hat bobbing above a bucket truck one day.

Really, he seemed to be everywhere. When a tree in the City right-of-way had to be cut down in my friend’s yard, she was terribly upset about losing it. Instead of hauling all of it away, Butch cut sections of the trunk to make benches for her family to keep. Sometimes I wondered how banners mysteriously appeared across very busy streets – until I noticed Butch’s hat bobbing above a bucket truck one day. When I didn’t see him in person, I saw News-Press mention of his volunteer work with the Child Development Center and hurricane Katrina relief efforts – and again when he was named Falls Church City Employee of the Year for the Year 2000.

Butch knows that his hat makes him rather visible, so a joke is to take it off when his crew is looking for him in a crowd. During Tinner Hill Festivals and Memorial Day parades – when the Recreation and Parks staff counts on his unflagging energy – he delights in receiving the inevitable panicked phone call during which he can tell the caller that he’s standing three feet away.
It’s not hard to strike up a conversation with Butch. He’s as interested in people and how they’re doing as he is in keeping “his” town livable for us. He often talks about the satisfaction he finds when people enjoy City events and the parks, fields, and ball courts he built and maintains with his crew. His funniest stories are verbatim reports of what preschool children say to him at the Community Center, especially after he’s helped them find lost parents or other important items.

He speaks less often about the trees, but surely he knows how much he has contributed to the health and beauty of our town. Of course, with his special brand of orneriness, Butch insisted that the name of his section be changed from “Beautification” to “Parks and Landscape Maintenance” when he became senior crew leader in 1990. It is from that position that he is retiring.
Falls Church will no longer be the same. First we’ll have to figure out who else to call when we don’t know how to begin getting something done. We treasure the friendship of this man who reminds us to laugh while he helps us solve problems. I know he’s looking forward to more time at his country home, nagging the dog that’s as big as a bear and quizzing the son and brother who still work for the City. Butch says it’s been a long, good ride. In his estimation, there’s probably no better tribute than the one offered by the little girl who stopped him a few years ago to show him the cowboy hat she’d placed on her Halloween pumpkin. I just want to thank him for everything he has given us.