Thomas Caufield Goltz, 68, died peacefully at his Livingston home on Friday, July 28, after a long illness.
Born in Japan to Dr. Neill F. Goltz, an ear nose and throat physician, and Deborah Donnelly Goltz, a classically trained pianist, Thomas was a proud North Dakotan by upbringing but became a citizen of the world, especially the Middle East and Central Asia. He spent many years as a war correspondent in countries that were once part of the USSR, documenting their bloody struggles through his books, journalism and films.
Survival in those places called for clever tricks: bribing an Aeroflot pilot with a handful of Cuban cigars to get a free seat; leading a 60 Minutes crew to obscure petroleum baths in Azerbaijan; surviving in a Syrian prison by telling jokes in Arabic; supporting himself all across Africa with a one-man Shakespearean puppet show.
A student of theater, languages and foreign affairs, he never lost his thespian ambitions, nor his love of the spotlight. If there was a stage, he climbed on it. If there wasn’t a stage, he created one around him and filled it with stories, yarns, songs, and oratory in various languages, all of it imbued with deep compassion for the suffering of his friends and bitterness for their persecutors. He was intensely loyal.
He wrote Assassinating Shakespeare, about his adventures as “a bard in the bush,” and other books about Egypt and Syria, Chechnya and Turkey and Georgia (the country, not the state), and most importantly about Azerbaijan, which was suffering a brutal war with neighboring Armenia when he arrived. That book led to his status as a national hero in Azerbaijan, which later wanted to build a pipeline to ship its oil to a port in Turkey. Thomas wanted to help so he found sponsors (think international oil companies and other questionable outfits), gathered a couple dozen Russian motorcycles, with sidecars, and hauled the first symbolic barrel of oil hundreds of miles. If he couldn’t find a road, he used a cow path. He drew massive international attention for the pipeline, which was built a few years later, enriching Azerbaijan but not Thomas. Prosperity was never a motivator for him.
About 1990, he bought a rambling house in Livingston and dubbed it East Goltzistan, where he hosted many parties, book readings, concerts and film screenings, as well as unfortunate souls who needed a place to flop. He would vacate for long periods for his travels and especially for jobs at the University of Montana and Montana State University, where he was a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher. Many students have testified about the life-changing nature of a Professor Goltz class. Though he had a teacher’s heart and soul, he had too much personality and bombast for academic bureaucracy or faculty socials. He put bumps in that road and the system eventually ran him off.
Given that experience, he was especially satisfied to earn an honorary doctorate degree from ADA University in Baku, Azerbaijan, which specializes in diplomacy and foreign policy. Other honorees include presidents of nations and Ivy League professors.
Thomas married Dr. Hicran Oge in 1984 in Istanbul, Turkey. Though they lived apart for years, they remained devoted to each other and she served as his primary caregiver over the past couple of years, along with his siblings, especially Vince, who uprooted his life to escort Thomas on recent five-week trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan, where Thomas met with the president of that country, showed clips of his latest film, and toured the war-torn areas that Azerbaijan reclaimed after yet another war with Armenia. That journey was his last hurrah.
Thomas was preceded in death by his father. He is survived by his wife Hicran, his mother, Deborah, of Bozeman, and seven siblings: Neill E. of Bozeman and Florida, Eddy of Taiwan, Martie of Bozeman, Julie of Spokane, Washington, Stan of Duluth, Minnesota, Vince of Mosier, Oregon and Baja, Mexico, and Charlie of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Other survivors include numerous in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Thomas put a lot of miles on his battered chassis. His passions included hunting, music, feeding people exotic food, delivering lengthy toasts, enthusiastic dancing, and jumping over campfires, often after a glass of “tooth cleaner.” He inspired love and exasperation in equal measures.
A celebration of his life will be held at 3 p.m. on Aug. 20 at the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts at 415 E. Lewis in Livingston, MT. Bring stories.