ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Not much, if anything, about Jewel Golphin fits with his age.
He certainly doesn’t look or act 81.
By 4:30 a.m. every morning, his feet are on the floor of his Fort Valley, Ga., home. Then he drives to his job at Robins Air Force Base, as he has for the past 58 years. He will soon get his pin for 60 years of federal service, including his two years in the Army serving in South Korea.
And he doesn’t have some cushy desk job. He is a roofer in the 78th Civil Engineer Group and has been on just about every roof on the base. He and James Walker Jr. have climbed roofs together since 1978. Combined, they have almost a century of experience working at Robins.
Thursday afternoon, Golphin drove a truck to a building near the flight line, put on his blue coveralls and proceeded to pull a large, telescoping ladder off the truck.
He carried it over to the building, extended it and carefully set it at the correct angle, easily completing a task that most people his age wouldn’t even try. If they did, it might well result in a trip to the emergency room.
He could have retired with maximum benefits in 1987, and he could have been relaxing at home watching TV that morning rather than climbing on a roof.
“That’s all I know is work, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” he said. “I’m out of a family of 12, and we always had to work. My daddy said you do better when you work.”
His dad, who lived to be 99, retired at age 87.
“He said, ‘Son, that’s the worst thing that ever happened,’” Golphin recalled.
Originally from Alabama, he started work at Robins in 1956 after leaving the Army. His first job was washing airplane parts, and he did a variety of other work before becoming a roofer.
He and Walker mostly go around checking where leaks are coming from, which isn’t easy to do. Water can run along beams and tiles before dripping through the ceiling onto a floor, so the leak usually can’t be located just by marking where it’s coming through below. Once they find it, they patch it up.
Walker said he was planning on retiring after 30 years when he first started working with Golphin. He now has 43 years of service, including a stint in the Air Force.
“He’s a great guy to work with,” Walker said. “He’s humorous, and he always has a positive attitude. Whichever way the ball bounces, good or bad, he’s always got a good solution for it.”
Golphin recently had a checkup with his doctor.
“He said, ‘Whatever you are doing, keep it up,’ ” Golphin said. “I don’t suffer with nothing.”
He is married and has three children he put through college, including one who is a teacher. He said his wife doesn’t pester him about retiring.
“She likes getting that check every two weeks,” he said.
He said he doesn’t really have any hobbies. For his free time, he likes to help elderly people around Fort Valley with home repairs.
He’s not sure when -- or if -- he might retire.
“I’m trying to teach these young fellows the ropes,” he said. “If I can get them on the right path, in another year I might turn it loose. I might. I didn’t say I would.”