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‘I did what I had to do’

Randy Goff’s daily mantra serves him well on the farm or when helping his Coopertown neighbors
Story and photos by Chris Villines 10/1/2018


Randy Goff, right, looks over his dark-fired tobacco with Robertson Cheatham Farmers Cooperative Springfield Branch Manager Lanny Chowning.
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Long before Farmer Charlie existed, there was Uncle Randy.

Randy Goff can identify with Tennessee Farm Bureau’s popular pitchman, who’s at the ready to assist a neighbor.

“We always have a good laugh when we see those commercials because Farmer Charlie is me,” says Randy, glancing at his wife of 31 years, Angela, in the den of the comfortable, secluded home he built in Coopertown in Robertson County. “If anyone around these parts needs something, they call me.”

One such neighbor, David Gleaves, will vouch for that.

“No matter what he’s got going on, he’ll drop what he’s doing to help you out,” David says. “And he doesn’t expect anything in return. That’s just the kind of guy he is — a good, good person.”

The uncle part? Yep, Randy’s got a slew of unofficial nieces and nephews who refer to him by that name. He’s everyone’s favorite uncle.

These relationships began where a lot of country connections do — on the farm, or in Randy’s case, the tobacco patch.

He has been around the crop for most of his 60 years, still grows some 16 acres of dark-fired, and has given many young men in the area an opportunity to learn about the tobacco-growing process by helping him with his crop. Often, these were friends of the Goff’s three children, John, Angel, and Sarah, who themselves weren’t spared from field work. John now lives in Oklahoma, Angel in Missouri, and Sarah in Coopertown.

“These kids would just show up; we didn’t need migrant help,” Randy says. “They knew they’d get fed dinner and that once we got our work done I would take them to the creek to swim. I call them my kids because they were around me and my family so much.”

Times have changed.

With their three children — who have produced the Goffs four grandchildren — and other “unofficial” children now grown with family and job responsibilities of their own, Randy runs a “mom and pop” operation, literally. He and Angela handle all the farm work themselves.

“She is my No. 1 helper,” says Randy, a Robertson Cheatham Farmers Cooperative member and lifelong member of Battle Creek Baptist Church. “When I’m topping and oiling tobacco, she’s right out there with me.”

The two met in 1986, when Randy stopped in for a sandwich at a Coopertown-area market where Angela worked. It only took three months of dating for them to become husband and wife. The quick-witted Randy explains how their relationship blossomed:

“She needed somebody to take care of her, and I needed somebody to keep me warm. My mom said she’d buy me an electric blanket for that! We’re a good match, though. We pair well together.”

Randy is the third generation on both sides of his family to farm the area’s fertile soil.

“I’ve been working on the farm ever since I was big enough to reach the clutch pedal,” he says. “My first paying job, I got 10 cents an hour — I was too little to pick up hay, but I could roll it. They paid me to go in front of them and roll two rolls together to make it easier to pick up. Now, you can’t let kids come work unless they are 18.”

After graduating from Springfield High School in 1974, Randy took a job at the town’s Tappan (now Electrolux) plant. He later worked in construction for more than 20 years and drove a tractor trailer. All the while, he still found time to farm on nights and weekends.

“When I drove the truck, I had my feet in every state in the U.S. but two, Alaska and Hawaii,” he says. “In September of 1998, I started building the house while I was working construction and also had 12 acres of tobacco. There was many a night when I’d be coming up the hollow on a tractor at 2 o’clock in the morning to work on the house.

“When I got everything paid for, I quit construction and just went to farming full time.”

He’s kept on working despite excruciating back pain that lingers despite two surgeries. He shuns relying on pain medicine and also won’t let his struggles get him down.

“There are days where I have to make myself go,” Randy admits. “I just refuse to give up.”

In his typical good-humored fashion, Randy recalls an exchange he had with a doctor who told him not to pick up anything over 3 pounds.

“I told him I had wrenches that weighed more than that,” he says with a laugh. “Heck, a stick of tobacco will weigh 50 pounds. When you’re a one-monkey show and the monkey goes down, the show stops, so I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. That’s what I’m going to put on my gravestone: ‘I did what I had to do.’”

Another example of Randy’s “no quit” attitude happened two years ago after he fell off a combine and broke his foot.

“I still had to grow tobacco and farm,” he says. “So, I got Angela to fix me a sling up on the tractor to where I could hang up my foot and still plow tobacco. I had to do it, whether I wanted to or not.”

It’s a tough, old school approach, one that Randy says applies to every facet of his and Angela’s life together.

“We produce 90 percent of what goes on our table to eat, whether it’s vegetables, fruit, or meat,” he explains. “I’ve always loved growing stuff, making it do what I wanted it to do, and enjoying the good Lord’s bounty. When you pick up a package or can at the store and it has words on it you can’t pronounce, it can’t be that good for you.”

Randy says he also likes the balance he’s found in life, which allows him to enjoy more time with Angela partaking in their favorite hobby, fishing.

“We like to sit in the boat and catch a mess of crappie,” he says. “We’re not spring chickens anymore. It’s time to slow down a little and have evenings where the favorite activity is grabbing the reverse lever on the recliner.”

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