Its purpose was to memorialize the untimely death of a stalwart city employee. The decision to do so was a touching action that told a heartwarming story that our words could never adequately express.
It was this: that in our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown, even the common man — the average “Joe,” if you will — is a hero to many, not just in word but in thought, in spirit and in personal deed.
This unsung hero was, and still is, in the hearts, minds and memories of those who knew and loved him — Randy Williford, 49, a city employee who died at the family residence Easter morning. Randy served as the early morning street sweeper in the Department of Public Works. On weekends, he was a truck driver for First Fleet.
Randy’s was strictly a blue-collar story best told by thousands of fellow area residents — Cleveland, Charleston, Bradley County and all points in between — whose lives remain wrapped in a personal set of priorities often including family, church and work.
A 7-year city employee who doubled as weekend truck driver the last four, Randy was a good man much beloved by all who shared the privilege of calling him friend — co-workers, supervisors, municipal government leaders and his fellow average Joe’s.
The day before his Remembrance of Life service, we were touched by a recount of Randy’s beliefs from our newspaper photographer Donna Kaylor. Last year during the city’s relocation of the aging yet majestic Cherokee Chieftain from Johnston Memorial Park to the Museum Center at Five Points, Randy was on the spot observing and assisting in every way possible.
Randy had followed the Chieftain’s story of removal through our newspaper headlines and wanted assurance that the wooden statue was treated with respect and handled with a delicate touch whose resounding message to community was one of integrity, understanding and care.
This was the tender side of Randy Williford that so very many knew and appreciated.
Cleveland municipal leaders, those who made the decision to honor their friend and employee by lowering the flag to half-staff, remember Randy’s painstaking diligence and his commitment to task in seeing that a job was not only done but that it was done well.
City Manager Janice Casteel is one such administrator. She tells of an early, early morning in the very wee hours — Randy’s typical shift — during a ride-along in his street sweeper. In preparation for the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library’s grand opening, Randy took extra care in cleaning the perimeter. He swept it once. He swept it a second time.
“ ... He wanted everything to be perfect,” the city manager said. “We’re going to miss Randy.”
Mayor Tom Rowland recollected a time when the city employee pulled his pickup to the side of the road and “waded through a busy intersection” just to pick up some debris — trash that eventually would have blown to the curb on its own.
“He was that kind of a public servant,” Cleveland’s longtime mayor said. “He loved to take care of the city.”
Those making the decision to honor Randy in this way — whether it was the mayor, the city manager or the full City Council — are to be commended. It was a warm action and a human touch like none other.
It was also a message to area residents and to all who observe our community from the outside — that in Cleveland, Charleston and Bradley County, the common man and the average woman are revered with an equally high stature as that afforded the rich, the famous and the powerful.
Not just with kind words, but in spirit, in action and in unconditional respect.
Goodbye, Randy. Your life was a plainly wrapped and loving gift to our community.
We wish you well.