Friends, co-workers remember Goodwin

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Most everybody who’s lived in Selma any length of time knows that Earl Goodwin was one of the founders of Bush Hog Manufacturing Company, Inc.

What most folks don’t know is that Goodwin and friends Bill Sweeney, Leon Jones and Roy Jones started the company with just $10,000 between them &045; and most of that borrowed.

Today the company, which manufactures a line of rotary cutting devices, boasts annual sales in the $200 million range and employs more than 700 people locally.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Back when the four friends got the idea for a product that could help farmers control unwanted vegetation, they had little more than a dream and a willingness to work to make it come true.

The four began in 1951 by pooling $2,500 apiece. They worked out of their garages until they could afford to rent legitimate manufacturing space.

Ballard is just one of countless numbers of people who are gathering this week to pay tribute to the life of one of this state’s most remarkable sons.

Goodwin died Friday at the age of 93. The funeral service is at 2 p.m. today at Northside Baptist Church.

He leaves behind a legacy that spans the business, political and civic fields.

A lifelong Democrat, Goodwin served four terms as a state senator.

Smitherman said that Goodwin was just naturally tough, having been reared in a family of 15 children. His father was a coal miner from Great Britain.

Goodwin continued to play without a helmet even after he began attending Howard College, now Samford University. After a game against the University of Alabama, Red Drew, one of the Alabama coaches pulled Goodwin aside and told him, &uot;Son, I admire your spirit. But you’re going to get hurt. I’m going to give you a helmet, but you’ve got to promise me you’ll wear it.&uot;

Goodwin took some of that toughness with him to the Alabama Senate.

Smitherman recalled an incident that made the 10 o’clock news on just about every television station in the state.

Goodwin, who was in his 70s at the time, was presiding over the Senate in the absence of the lieutenant governor. According to Smitherman, Goodwin called for a certain bill he was known to oppose to come to the floor for a vote. One of the bill’s backers, a fellow senator half Goodwin’s age, thought to save the bill from certain defeat by slipping it into his pocket, thus preventing a vote.

During World War II Goodwin flew a CG-4A glider. &uot;It wasn’t nothing but a big piece of balsa wood &045; no engine, no nothing,&uot; marveled Smitherman. &uot;I think something like 70 percent of the pilots who flew the things got shot down. He was lucky to even be alive after that.&uot;

In point of fact, the average lifespan of a glider pilot in WWII was all of 13 seconds. Goodwin flew six missions without a scratch, although he seldom spoke of his experiences after the war.

Throughout his political career, Goodwin was often closely associated with George Wallace, and played a role in the latter’s ill-fated presidential run.

Goodwin often introduced Wallace at campaign rallies across the state.

Among his other legislative accomplishments, Goodwin was also instrumental in getting U.S. Highway 80 largely four-laned &045; which has proven to be a major factor in attracting industries to still largely rural West Alabama.

If his accomplishments seemed larger than life at times, Goodwin was perhaps proudest of his reputation for decency and honesty.

&uot;I had a good name,&uot; he once said. &uot;The people respected me. Eighty-five percent of the people in the Legislature today would pick up the phone and answer if I were to call.&uot;

A lot of those people will be on hand today to pay their last respects. Joe Smitherman will be one of them.