After a lengthy illness, one of Tarboro's most revered businessmen, Paul David Shirley, died at his home Monday surrounded by his family. He was 92.
Shirley developed a savvy business reputation as the owner of S&J Grocery Inc. in Princeville and Shirley Bonding Corporation. In their respective categories, both were arguably among the best in Edgecombe County.
Shirley's business intuition got its start when he dropped out of school to work at Midway Grocery, located in downtown Tarboro. While working there, he was called to serve in World War II in 1942. After receiving an honorable discharge in 1946, Shirley returned home and purchased Midway Grocery from his former employer, W.R. Jones. One year later, he established Shirley Bonding Corporation.
In 1963, he opened S&J Grocery in Princeville while at the same time maintaining Midway. Shirley closed Midway around 1975 and placed all of his emphasis on the newer store. Shirley and S&J Grocery was a fixture in Princeville until the 1999 flood, which covered the town and destroyed the store. Shirley chose not to return, but his legacy had been established.
"Mr. Shirley has always been present in my life since I was a little girl," said Princeville commissioner Ann Howell. "Not only my life, but so many others in Princeville. He will be missed."
His legacy as a bail bondman was equal to that of his store ownership. Shirley knew the ins and out of the law and he developed a good working relationship with judges, lawyers and law enforcement officers — which made it easier to serve his clients. For some of his clients, getting out of jail was just a phone call to Shirley.
"Bad things happen to good people and he would always give them the benefit of the doubt," said Shirley's youngest son, Paul David Shirley, Jr. "When they got in trouble, they knew they could count on him. Many times he would get someone out with just a promise. Not only just to come to court, but to pay him. He always said, 'Your word is your bond.' People would pay him before they would pay anybody because, likewise, he would stand with them when nobody else would."
Shirley shared life lessons as well as business lessons with his children. He told them about quitting school to help provide for his family and then, his duties on the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt. He told them why he gave tirelessly to those who were in need.
"Our daddy grew up very poor," David said. "He often said to us, 'I never went to bed hungry, but I could have eaten more if we would have had it.' I never forgot that. That's the reason he was so generous. If he had anything, he wanted to share it because he knew what it was like to not to have enough for the basic needs."
Hosea Dickens has worked for the Shirley family for many years. During the last five years, he was Shirley's caretaker. Often times they dressed alike. Although sick, Dickens said his friend didn't lose his authoritative character nor his love for people.
"He was an outspoken fella who made it plain what he wanted," Dickens said. "But he was good to me. I enjoyed taking him riding. The first place he wanted to go was Princeville. He would see somebody in the yard and he would ask me to pull over so he could talk to them. That's the kind of man he was. I'm gong to miss him."
Shirley's oldest son, Donald, reminisced about the times that he and his brother worked with their father, who was always busy.
"We grew up working in store with him and when we got licenses we drove to jail and got people who he got out and carried them home," he said. "He stayed busy and he wanted to stay busy. He always said there was three ways to doing everything — the right way, the wrong way and the Shirley way."
David added, "Daddy was a constant — he was always the same and he was always there and you knew where he stood. Not only with his sons, but everybody that walked through his business life as well. We will miss him."
Long time friend, retired judge Frank Brown also had fond memories of Shirley.
"I met Paul in 1965 when I began practicing law with Weeks & Muse," he said. "We became friends and that friendship lasted until his death. He called me his third son. I knew that would never be, but it was special for me because my father died when I was 11-years old. It exemplified our close relationship. He offered advice and encouragement and became the father I didn't have.
"We lost a good man when we lost Mr. Paul, but he will live on in our hearts and the hearts of those whose lives he touched."
Shirley's funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro.