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Daily Pilot

Tom Godley: 1943-2012

'Godsend' during district scandal has died

Former assistant superintendent of business worked in Newport-Mesa in early '90s embezzlement case.

By Jill Cowan

8:11 PM PST, January 4, 2013

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Tom Godley, who former colleagues say helped lead Newport-Mesa Unified School District through one of its darkest times, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

Godley, who died Dec. 24, served as assistant superintendent of business for the district in the early 1990s, during one of the largest school district embezzlement cases in California history.

According to reports at the time, the district's chief financial officer, Stephen A. Wagner, was convicted of stealing more than $3 million from the district between 1986 and 1992.

In the scandal's fallout, some parents and community members pushed for Godley, along with other top district administrators and board members, to be ousted.

But those who worked with him at N-MUSD said Godley was a solid leader through the tumult.

"Tom Godley was a godsend when the district was going [through] the embezzlement," former district trustee and Daily Pilot columnist Jim de Boom wrote in an email. "Before Steve Wagner's embezzlement was discovered, Wagner was trying to get Godley fired. It turned out Godley was asking questions."

Added Trustee Martha Fluor: "It was a very difficult time, and yet Tom was always open and above board. I found him very genuine and just a nice, nice man."

While Newport-Mesa residents might — for better or worse — best remember Godley as part of an administration marred by controversy, he also served in several other districts throughout the Southland over the course of a long career in education.

Orange Unified School District Trustee Kathy Moffat, who said she worked with Godley when he was superintendent of OUSD before he retired in 2008, remembered a hardworking administrator who put kids first.

"He began as a teacher, first and foremost," she said. "Then he developed this expertise in school business, financial planning — that kind of thing. "When he came to us [in 2003], that's what people thought his expertise was, but his heart was really in the classroom."

Godley is survived by his wife, Kathleen Godley. Reached at her home in Irvine, she declined to comment for this story.

A memorial service was held Thursday morning at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach.

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan