“Hi, Mr. Paul,” they say.
“Good morning, Mr. Paul,” they say.
They will be wearing smiles and waving. Teachers will admonish them, pursing their lips and say, “Shhhhh.” Then, the happy kids will giggle and wave.
Paul Campbell, already on the job at Calhoun City Schools headquarters as “keeper of the building,” returns the greetings, nodding and smiling as young students arrive for classes. It is a pleasant and anticipated daily ritual. Neither student nor Mr. Paul would ever want to let it go.
It is a ritual that has been going on now for 54 years, including the last 28 or so, during which time Campbell has not missed a day. That’s a lot of days, closing in on 10,000 consecutively and including association with more than 25,000 students if calculations serve correctly. Eat your heart out, Cal Ripkin.
Now, in fitting tribute, the collaborative stay-in-school committee GRAD (Get Ready Achieve Dream), has named its Perfect Attendance Day award in honor of this popular do-everything City Schools employee who himself sets an exemplary attendance example.
GRAD, made up of representatives from the literacy council, Family Connection, United Way and the two public school systems also gives monthly and yearly attendance awards and recognition, as it will repeat this school year with hanging banners. Also, GRAD once again will promote Perfect Attendance Day, this year on Oct. 5 as part of Fulltime Equivalency, a state-funding process realized through attendance figures.
“This is great, a real honor,” says Mr. Paul, upon learning of the award. “I could not be happier.”
He has served, by his count, more than a dozen principals since going to work in 1956 at Calhoun Junior High (now the site of Calhoun Middle) two years after his own graduation from Stephens High, where he was one of 10 seniors enrolled in a high school with only four classrooms.
Mr. Paul reports no sad days during his 54 years, saying he has reported for work as custodian, Mr. Fixit, clean-up man and a myriad of other duties always on time and ready to go except for a six-weeks period in 1982 when he had to have leg surgery.
He has worked with a philosophy of arrive early and stay late. Students and their moods and fashions change, but their attitude toward him, and his toward them, seemingly does not. A happy demeanor is shared on both sides, and he gets positive feedback as proof, including one recent letter from a former student who has settled in California.
“It has been a real experience,” he says.
Even the years of school integration during the 1960s is remembered as a smooth transition, and Mr. Paul recalls with fondness the first African-American student.
“The first was a boy by the name of Clyde McClure,” says Mr. Paul. “The next, and the first girl, was Sharon Johnson. I looked after them a little bit. Things went smooth, as I remember. And both of them are still in Calhoun. I hear they are doing good.”
Paul Campbell is also an African-American.
He can, when prompted, recall other students’ names and he can rapidly tick off names of principals for whom he served – Meadows, Strain, O’Connor, Baxter, Neal, et al . . . and Dr. Michele Taylor, a former principal and now City Schools superintendent, his current boss.
“Mr. Paul has touched the lives of so many students and staff members during his tenure,” said Taylor. “I remember his helpfulness even when I was a student at Calhoun Junior High. Calhoun City Schools has been blessed to have such a dedicated leader and role model. His work ethic and positive attitude are attributes that we hope to instill in all our students and staff. He takes pride in his work and it shows. We look forward to celebrating many more years with Mr. Paul.”
Recently, he celebrated his 76th birthday, a day that was set aside in special celebration as recommended by Johnny Meadows some four years ago. They cut a cake and Mr. Paul blew out the candles. It could be the last one, for Mr. Paul does not deny he is thinking of retirement. Teasingly, he says, “Well, you just never know.”
He won’t soon be forgotten. He has even been grand marshal in a homecoming parade — two years ago. Now, this attendance award, a plaque upon which his facial likeness will prevail. The Gordon County School System presents a similar one in honor of the late long-time educator Charles Skaggs.
It has gone by fast, Mr. Paul says, thinking back to 1956. That same year “Marty” won the movie Oscar; Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series; Grace Kelly married Prince Ranier II of Monico; Eisenhower was re-elected President of the United States; Elvis was being fitted for his crown as King of Rock and Roll, and Congress ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional.
And Burma Shave continued a unique, attention-getting way to advertise its product as it posted signs along the highway in staggered fashion and in clever rhyme:
“And cool as ice,
“And Oh! Louise!
“He smelled so nice
“Burma Shave Lotion”
Now, if we may do one for Mr. Paul:
“It’s so cool
“To be in school
“We stand tall
“With Mr. Paul”
“And,” says Mr. Paul, “I would do it all again.”