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Personnel File - June 2009: Security

Cecil Goins
Sergeant-at-arms, N.C. Senate

The General Assembly hasn’t made it easy for Cecil Goins to do his job — keeping the legislature’s upper house safe. Sergeant-at-arms since 1992, he oversees a 15-member detail that provides security for Senate sessions and committee meetings. Due to a peculiarity in state law, visitors to the legislature aren’t required to undergo a search for weapons. “When I tell my colleagues this, they are amazed. They always ask if someone has ever brought a weapon in, and I tell them, ‘If they have, they’ve never used it.’”

Even though violence hasn’t been a threat, Goins, 82, has much to keep him busy. “We get more people protesting these days. You get people up in the galleries shouting and demonstrating.”

But changes in the galleries are nothing compared with the career shift that took him into security almost by accident. During his freshman year at N.C. A&T State University, the Southern Pines native was drafted, finishing his Army basic training in August 1945. “We were going to be part of the invasion of Japan. But then they dropped the [atom] bombs.” Instead he was among the first troops in the occupying force. When he finished his tour in 1947, he returned to college, graduating with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1950. He rejoined the Army, this time as an infantry officer, finally leaving the service as a major in 1963.

Goins then went to work as assistant business manager at Shaw University, where — among other responsibilities — he was in charge of its bookstore. There he met an FBI agent who periodically checked on books purchased by a professor the bureau suspected of communist leanings. One day, Goins made a joke to the agent that changed everything. “He came in with his nice shoes and his suit, and I said, ‘I need a job like you got.’” The agent took him seriously. When he discovered Goins had a military background, he recommended him for the U.S. Marshals Service. He was appointed in 1965, starting a 20-year career with the federal police force, which he says is sometimes undervalued. “Everybody thinks the FBI does all the important things. But we served the warrants. We were the cavalry.”

His time with the Marshals Service gave Goins a front-row seat for some of the major events of the ’60s. For example, he was at the civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965 and at the Pentagon in October 1967 when it was surrounded by about 3,000 anti-war protestors, including child-care expert Benjamin Spock.

Goins retired from that job in 1985 and worked in Raleigh as a private investigator before a friend, Sen. Tony Rand, D-Fayetteville, asked him to become sergeant-at-arms. His salary ranges from $25,000 to $35,000, depending on how long the Senate stays in session. The grandfather of one could have retired years ago but says he enjoys working. “I used to say I would take it day by day. Now it’s year by year.”