In the words of his beloved brother, “Paul died while he was doing something that he loved.”
The thought encapsulates the life of Paul Edward Goins, 70, a common man born and raised in Bradley County who was the son of a U.S. Army veteran and who comprised one-half of the unpaid volunteer team that has carefully manicured the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Hill for the last two decades, and probably longer.
The other half is Robert Goins, known by most in this community as “Bullet,” a simple man as well who never attended high school, yet in time became one of the area’s most loyal fans of the Cleveland High School Blue Raiders football program.
In fact, the Goins brothers — and their dad, Paul Lee Goins, a World War II veteran — attended every Blue Raider football game from 1966 through 1998.
When their father passed in 1998, he was buried at the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Hill, at which point “Bullet” began his years of upkeep work at the historic section. He was joined a short time later by his younger brother Paul, a man who already lived with heart ailments requiring the assistance of a caregiver. In his living years, that caregiver was his father.
With their father’s passing, “Bullet” took over his brother’s care, and the two began tag-teaming in the upkeep of the Veterans Cemetery — where more than 250 Bradley County veterans are buried — which included the unheralded chores of mowing and trimming, landscaping, and keeping the gravestones and pavilion clean.
Paul's unexpected death came on a Thursday morning while mowing the cemetery.
To call it a labor of love underscores the sentiment felt toward the Goins brothers by an appreciative community, as well as the families who have loved ones buried there. Although unpaid for their heartfelt volunteerism, the two approached the responsibility as their chosen duty.
Frequently seen working at the Veterans Cemetery on any given day of the week, and any month of the year rain or shine and hot or cold, the Goins pair paid tribute to local veterans with every minute and each hour spent toiling at the sacred ground.
In the absence of his brother, “Bullet” pledges to keep to his commitment — and now, he will stick to task in memory of not only his dad, but now to his brother.
“It won’t be the same without my brother there,” a solemn Robert told a Cleveland Daily Banner staff writer who interviewed him a day after his brother’s passing.
Another who will miss Paul Goins is successful Cleveland businessman Allan Jones who grew up with Paul and who gave his new friend the nickname that has stuck with him for decades: “The Toboggan Kid.”
As a 13-year-old, Paul apparently wore a green toboggan year-round no matter where he went and under any number of circumstances. The kids in Jones’ camp — about 10 years old — would be playing football in a neighborhood yard, and riding in would be young Paul on an Allstate Sears moped. In time, they pegged him with the toboggan moniker.
“Much later in life, I would see him around town on a bicycle, but never talked with him,” Jones recalled after Paul’s passing. “When I purchased The Village in 1998, he came and visited. He asked if I remembered stopping him on his moped in the 1960s, and I surprised him when I recited word-for-word our conversation from 57 years earlier.”
Jones credited the Goins brothers for the service they’ve given the community for 22 years.
“Paul, in his own simple way, made a tremendous contribution to our community, for the same period of time I have owned The Village,” Jones said.
Men like Paul and Robert Goins will be long remembered in our hometown, not for dominating the headlines in their community’s newspaper or for incredible business successes or for accrued wealth. Rather, their names will be tied to another label; that being, the unsung volunteers whose actions have made a difference.
Ours was a better world with men like Paul Goins in it. It is our hope others will follow in his modest lead by taking on the tasks of a people that no one else wants to tackle.
We offer our condolences to Robert “Bullet” Goins in the loss of his brother. In remembering Paul, we do so with a warmer heart today … not just because of who he was, but because of what he meant to others.