Sandy Koffman: An active, happy life that came
to a sudden end
Published: August 10, 2012
AS NEWS of the death of former Pacific
Grove Mayor Sandy Koffman spread around the Monterey Peninsula
last Friday, many people were shocked that someone who was
always so youthful and vibrant could be gone.
This week, community leaders remembered her unabashed
enthusiasm and numerous contributions to local causes, while her
husband, Dan, provided details about the illness that quickly
took her life, even as he reflected on their years together in
Malibu, Pacific Grove and Washington State — and especially her
love for the Monterey Peninsula.
Koffman, 60, who was mayor of Pacific Grove from 1994 to 2002,
died Aug. 3 of pancreatic cancer at her home in Camano Island,
Wash., after a nearly six-month battle with the disease.
“We just celebrated our 34th anniversary, and she had her 60th birthday just days before the transition,” Dan Koffman, 62, told The Pine Cone.
Born and raised in Chicago, Sandy Koffman studied drama and
journalism at Northwestern University. Her early jobs included
stints at an insurance company, running a modeling agency and
managing a bar.
“Even before she could drink, she was running the joint,” Dan
The modeling gig led her to the 1976 International Housewares
Show, where he was working for a company as a product designer.
She was in Booth 505 and he was in Booth 506.
“We met across a crowded convention floor aisle, and
immediately I thought this gal had magic,” Dan Koffman recalled.
Though she was married at the time, the two became close
friends. Eventually, she separated from her husband and moved to
Malibu to be with Dan. They married in 1978.
“We began almost immediately to make each other’s dreams come
true,” he said.
While living the Southern California lifestyle, the two would often take trips to San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito or to Monterey.
“What happened is that over the years, we kept falling in love
with the Monterey Peninsula,” Dan Koffman said.
They eventually left the Malibu area and moved in 1990 to
Pacific Grove, which they liked to call “Central Eden.”
“We have always had a love affair with the fog and the rain,”
The Koffmans, who immediately felt welcomed by their P.G.
neighbors, started the nonprofit Pacific Grove Eco-Corps, which
aimed to plant Monterey pines in the city.
“We were interested in the 100-year life of these trees that
were already 80 years old,” he said.
Though Koffman didn’t necessarily want to be a politician, her
desire to become more involved with the community prompted her
to run for mayor. She squared off against Jeanne Byrne in 1994
and won. But the morning after winning the election, Dan Koffman
said they were taken aback.
“She looked at me said, ‘Now what the hell will we do?’ he
recalled. “I said, ‘Do what you have always done. You are a
Warm and personable, Koffman became a cheerleader who bridged
political divisions because she genuinely liked people, her
longtime close friend Robert Huitt told The Pine Cone.
“She wasn’t politically ambitious; she just loved the
opportunities that came with being mayor,” Huitt said, “And she
made good use of them to build the youth center, civic center
and senior housing” complex near Lovers Point.
Though Dan and Sandy Koffman never thought they would leave
Pacific Grove, the couple decided to move to Camano Island, a
less developed area in Washington State.
“We chose this neck of the woods because it really reminded us
of the Monterey Peninsula 30 years ago,” he said.
A sudden illness
An avid hiker, Koffman was also a vegetarian who led a healthy
lifestyle. News that she was sick was bewildering and abrupt.
The sudden bouts of heartburn she was experiencing in the months
before she got sick weren’t much cause for concern.
In hindsight, though, Koffman said it may have been a symptom
of her illness.
“On Feb. 26, Sandy was running, jumping and doing pilates and
hiking,” Koffman said. “And on the 27th of February, cancer was
ready to kill her.”
She was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors found that
her digestive tract was completely blocked.
“We went from 60 to zero,” he said.
Physicians performed 16 surgeries. She spent 30 days in the
hospital, which was 60 miles away from their home. Dan Koffman
drove there every day to be at her bedside.
“From day one, she was in excruciating pain,” he said. “We
learned how to manage pain.”
Besides pharmaceuticals, they used homeopathic medicine and
prayer to keep her pain to a minimum. “It took a whole lot of
effort, and there was a lot of fine tuning,” he said.
But at some point, the cancer had taken complete control of her
“She was unconscious for my birthday” in April, Dan said.
The two discussed what would be in her obituary. Koffman, who
didn’t like many photos of herself, chose a picture for her obit
that was taken during the time she first ran for mayor.
Eventually, her fighting spirit and will to live couldn’t fend
off the inevitable. She passed away peacefully at their home at
2 a.m. with her husband by her side.
“She did a remarkable job until she could no longer speak,” he
said, adding that she is, “and will
always be,” in his presence.
“We have been separated before,” he said. “She has gone ahead
and we will be together again in the cosmic scheme of things one
Chamber of Commerce President Moe Ammar, who worked with
Koffman for eight years while she was mayor, said the one word
that comes to mind when he thinks of her is “balance.”
“She was able to balance the needs of the residents, businesses
and environment,” Ammar said. “She cared about people, earth,
pets and mostly P.G. She was very friendly, happy, honest and
caring. She worked well with staff and other council members.
She wanted positive change.”
Pacific Grove City Hall, which flew flags at half-staff in
Sandy Koffman’s honor from Monday to Wednesday, issued a press
release about her death, calling her a “people person” and an
advocate for city employees.
“She knew every employee by their first name and always took
the time to smile and thank them for their contributions,”
according to the release.
At Wednesday’s city council meeting, an emotional Huitt said
there would be a memorial service for Koffman Aug. 25 at 2 p.m.
Details will be posted on the city’s website.