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Sandy Koffman: An active, happy life that came to a sudden end


By KELLY NIX

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 Koffman said.

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,” he explained.

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 quick study.’”

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 body.

“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 day.”


‘Balance’

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.