Crossing the Bridge: The Backstory

4friendsThis is a backstory even though written only a couple days before “Crossing the Bridge” was delivered at Paul’s funeral. That post can be accessed via the link at end of this post. However, it contains a good overview of both the man as well as the attitudes of those who knew him over the years that will help to understand the funeral post for those who did not know him.

The following is copied from the Facebook page “Remember in Texarkana” and is dated the day I learned of his death which was 15 October, 2013. The image is, L-R, David A. Mallette, Paul Irwin Robins, Danny Lynn McDonald, and Conlee Bill Whitehurst. The puppies are “checked out” of the Texarkana Animal Shelter. The place is now the parking lot of the Stateline Albertson’s Grocery Store. A link to “Crossing the Bridge” itself will be found at the end of this post.

Here begins the edited post:

Most of the time, Remember in Texarkana is about things. This morning, I beg indulgence to talk about a person .

About an hour ago, I was informed that Paul Robins, known to many in this city as “Sharky,” passed away.

Paul was a Texarkana original, born here and a resident his entire life. He could have been anywhere else and been rich, but his core values were home and friends. I suspect there will be some reading this that may wonder at my unbounded love and respect for this man. I grew up with him, and he was my mentor. Later, I would find that, in many ways, I was his as well. I met Paul within hours of our moving in to 205 E. 38th street in the summer of 1956. Paul was two years older than I. He and his mother, Vivian, lived in an apartment at the Texarkana Animal Shelter that occupied the block that today is the Albertson’s at Stateline and Arkansas Boulevard.

It seemed that Paul always had money. In those early years of the hot, dry summers of the great drought of the 50s, he’d offer to buy me and the other boys in the neighborhood a Mr. Cola if we’d pick the blackberries that grew along what was then E. 39th street. That seemed like a very good deal to us, and we’d dutifully fill up a few lunch sacks and turn them over to him. He’d then put them in pint containers and sell them at three times the price to all the neighbors. I not only did not mind, it formed the basis of my understanding of sound business practices. Pay people an honest wage and use that labor to make more. Jesus told the same story in the parable of the talents.

When I was about 12 and he 14, my father would take us up to a place on the Cossatot River near the site of Paraclifta we referred to as the “Iron Bridge.” He’d leave us there for a week. Today, this would be child abuse. Then, it was the most wonderful gift a parent could give. We’d learned the skills of campfire cooking; we played in the fields and ponds and had learned about poisonous snakes and plants. We were expert swimmers and new enough first aid to handle most anything. As my father told a neighbor’s dad who questioned his judgment in the matter “Those boys are safer up there than they will ever be wandering the streets of Texarkana.” It was a different time, and our days there remain in my memory as the finest days of my youth.

As we became young teenagers, we’d occasionally go out to the old Texarkana Livestock Auction barn on King’s Highway. Paul had told me we could make 5 dollars by sweeping out the auction. I thought this a heckuva deal. Five dollars in hand, I was rich and ready to go. Not Paul. He’d found the auctioneers and a few cowboys engaged in a friendly game of poker in the office. They smiled as he politely asked if he could try a couple of hands. Paul laid his 5 dollars on the table, and in less than an hour we left with those 5 dollars and about 300 more, leaving a group of rather bewildered cowboys scratching their heads.

By high school, he’d put on his black suit, red vest, and bowler hat and be off to Shreveport and the casinos. He never would let me go. He did not want me exposed to some of the things that might happen there. He always came back with a lot more money than he left with, and I’ve no doubt he won it fair and square from those who richly deserved to lose it.

When I arrived at Arkansas High his senior year, I was exposed to some bullying the first few weeks and I told him about it. I was quite surprised when it all stopped. I found out later Paul had made it be known that I was his friend. Not once did I ever see Paul raise a hand in violence of any kind, yet a word from him seemed to have the force of law amongst those who listened to no one.

By that time, he’d become known as “Sharky.” He was one of the finest young clarinetists I have ever heard and would play along with Pete Fountain records endlessly. All is life he loved great jazz, something we shared.

Our lives parted when he headed off to the Navy in 1966. Years passed between meetings. He had his club in the old Frank’s Steak House, Sharky’s Pizza, and I don’t know what else over those years. He married Diane, the love of his life, and had a beautiful family. About 15 years ago we began to visit more on the phone, and when I was in Texarkana. He filled in many stories of the years I missed, and they were marvelous. He won and lost large sums of money in those years. He did not care. On the surface, one might have thought he was all about money.

“Dave,” he said, “It isn’t about the money. The money is just a way of keeping score.”

Over those years, friends and mere acquaintances would come to him with a story and a need for money. He would often tell me of such incidents, and make it clear he knew he’d never see a dime of it back, but he didn’t care. Paul was there for you, and always had your back.

A few years ago, his wife Diane developed cancer and gradually wasted away. For many months, Paul left her side only for an hour or two and ministered to her with a devotion that was demonstrative of a love comparable only to that of our Lord.

Diane was a person of great faith who sang hymns of praise in her final hours in that living room where only a few hours ago and a few feet away Paul joined her in glory.

This morning, my friend found himself crossing that old bridge and joining Diane at that campground on the banks of the crystal stream that flows by the throne of God.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Amen

Comments from Remember in Texarkana Facebook page:

William Wharton Nick Barba and I played guitars in Sharky’s Pizza place back in ’75-’76. He was a great guy.

Wayne Buse Nice.

Mule Burnett I never knew the man, but from your account of the friend that you described, he was surely a good man and friend. I am heartbroken for your loss.

Mule Burnett BTW…I learned to swim and spent many Sunday afternoons at the “Iron Bridge”, back in the first half of the ’50s.

Michael Boyd My father was good friends with Sharky and I can remember him taking me to Sharky’s pizza. Seems like I recall 2 different locations, the last one being in the parking lot of AR side Walmart.

Ashley Watson The site of the iron bridge is still accessible but there is a gate because the road was re-routed to a new bridge about 35 years ago.

Gary Cherry I always liked Paul and he was a one of a kind. A friend since we were raised up at North Heights. I will always remember the rubber gun fights and fun as a youngster in those hazy lazy days of summer.Prayers up for the family.

Debbi Maple Smith Thanks for sharing just a wonderful life.

Tommy Clark David, that’s a great tribute to Paul. He and I were great friends growing up and I well remember is entrepreneurial abilities. He had a great sense of humor and we had some great times together. I am very sorry he has left this world, but happy he is in a better place. Thanks for sharing.

Jody Barlow Rest in Peace Paul-you were a good man

Gloria Sangalli I enjoyed that story o very much!!!! He sounds like he was a real treasure!!!! Prayers~~~~

Mary Brown King I remember Sharky and Sharky’s…thanks for sharing.

Larry Tedder Beautifully written David, and a very loving tribute to your life long friend. May he Rest in Peace.

Dianna McAdams Emfinger Very rare to find a friend such as this, and a friendship that lasts as long. A beautiful tribute to a man who must have been a wonderful person. May he Rest In Peace.

Mike Tidwell A very nice tribute. A great friendship.

Carolyn Brown Bridges Beautiful memories of a wonderful friend…thanks for sharing with us. So sorry for your loss…

Annette Atkinson Mackey Paul strolled down the hall of Arkansas High…. What a great guy.

Robert Lavender When I found out Paul’s phone # not long ago I called him. We had a good talk, and I’m so glad we talked before he passed. I usually lost pitching pennies at the wall though. Paul was a friend.

David Mallette Gotta comment on that, Robert. Never could figure out how Paul won at “games of chance.” I asked him about why he risked so much at games of chance, and he said “Because, chances are I’ll win…”

Gary Cherry I can still know the smell going to see Sharky at the Animal Shelter his Mom managed. They had an apartment in the Shelter. One I can still know the smell going to see Sharky at the Animal Shelter his Mom managed. They had an apartment in the Shelter. One thing I remember is that Animal Shelter was real clean and the animals were treated right. Now that piece of land is now Albertsons’s on State Line. Sharky at Halloween always somehow got more candy than the rest of the neighbor kids. He would go all over town where we stayed within our neighborhood. I mean he would have a sack full. It’s good to reflect on our memories and it always brings a smile when you look back at those days of long ago.

David Mallette Gary, I suspect he was about the candy just as with money…Wasn’t about the candy, just a way of keeping score.

Once the score was tallied, he was just as happy giving it away.

Gary Cherry Hey Sharky was always giving with anything he had. He had a big heart and helped anyone in need. I was at his restaurant next to Walmart on State Line when a hobo came in and he feed the guy and Sharky had the him pick trash on the parking lot. He came over and told me he didn’t want the guy feel like it was charity so by picking up trash he would feel better about himself. That was our friend….

Tommy Clark What I remember most about him was being in the band with him and all the good times we had. I have also made more than a few trips with him to the Bossier strip when we were supposed to be at the “late movie”!

David Mallette Late indeed, Tommy. After Sak’s, the Carousel, and the Boom Boom Room…

Tommy Clark I’m convinced that the clubs in Bossier were the one that kept the “late movie” going in Texarkana because that’s how they got about half their business.

David Mallette I’ve a great memory of the piano bar at the Captain Shreve Hotel. Paul loved mellow jazz, and this place had no mikes or speakers, just a nice studio grand in a quiet bar. Very 40s. Mostly instrumentals, occasional vocal a la “As Time Goes By.”

JoAnn Garland Scarborough I am so sorry to hear about Paul. I remember him well. Rest in Peace Paul.

Annette Atkinson Mackey He was very good on the clarinet….. Loved his music!

David Mallette It seemed to come so easy to him, Annette. I’ve often wondered what that Selmer Paris his mom bought him would be worth now. It was about 900.00 then, and made of wood now endangered and illegal.

David Mallette Yikes. Just checked. 4k to 12k…

Jerry Creamer my condolences. it is truly a sad day to lose a close lifelong friend. very few people manage to reach that lofty perch for so long.

John Porter Sad to hear that, Paul was a friend of mine back in the 80’s, have not seen him in many years.

Joy Womack Griffin Great tribute to your friend…R.I.P. Paul

Lee Ann Adrian Duran Loved his pizza

Ron Hansche I love the picture of Danny McDonald. He married my cousin, Patsy McDonald

Gary Cherry You know Skarky’s pizza was the best in town. He used fresh ground beef and nothing could get close to it. He told me one time if he won’t eat it he dang sure wouldn’t sell it off to his customers. He and Ray Leavelle had a piece of land off I-30 close to where the convention center is now and they were planning to built a nice uptown restaurant. But, Ray died from cancer and that ended that. But the way he talked it would be the talk of the town. He knew the food service and what it would take to make it a great place to dine. Ray and Sharky were long time friends and band members at AHS and both excellent musicians.

David Mallette Ron, Paul and my last outing together was to Patsy’s funeral. She and Danny were an awesome couple. I had great love for Emmet and Charlene as well. Charlene was beautiful as ever. Danny was the image of his father. Paul and I went to TLC for burgers, then visited Howard at Ragland piano. It was a wonderful day, and seems like such a short time ago. I sort of knew it was our last, as he really struggled that day.

David Mallette Gary, not building that little supper club was a huge disappointment to Paul. He wanted to be a fine host and treat people right. The loss of Ray was a great wound.

Terri Murphy Chandler I remember Sharky’s Pizza, and the jukebox. My first memory of pepperoni pizza was at Sharky’s. Good memories! Thanks for giving me an image of a man to go with the name.

David Mallette In town at the old homestead. Hope to see some of you as your are able on Saturday.

Annette Atkinson Mackey Expensive horn even then David. He sure was good on it. My dad played the clarinet too and was very good. Time goes by so fast. My dad use to sit in his office and play all the time. I just think Paul was too young to die.

David Mallette Yessum, Annette. I remember being stunned when he told me what his mom paid. Of course, Ms. Vivian is still around and living unassisted at Dodderidge. Awesome lady, and the mother I have left.

David Mallette What a beautiful day for a funeral! The sound of taps played to perfection echoed across the woods surrounding Macedonia Cemetary as a grateful nation took a moment to salute a sailor. Godspeed, Paul, until we meet again.

Lantz Lurry It was always fun to be around Sharky we had many good times together growing up he and I had many of the same friends when my cousin Ray Leavelle passed away sharky was one of the first person that reached out to me he was a good friend and very good person

Ginger Porterfield Patterson Paul was the same great guy the last time I saw him as he was in elementary school at NHS. He introduced me to my boys’ daddy at Sharky’s Pizza. He came by my office over the years when he had something to sell that would go in a new home or business, such as a 10′ diameter chandelier. I said “where do you find these things?”. He would just chuckle softly and reply “oh, here and there,” he always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word. Even when we were kids, he was an old soul. I thought it was because he grew up as the man of the house. His mom is a fine lady.

Sandy Pilgreen Williams David, that was a beautiful eulogy and a heartfelt…”until we meet again”

Cathy Barager Garner Had tears as I read the loving tribute to your dear friend. Through your words, I felt as if I knew him too.

Terri Murphy Chandler Thank you for sharing this. Beautifully done!

David Mallette Terry, your last two words with exclamation point describe Paul’s life.

Crossing the Bridge, the funeral of Paul Robins


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