First published in the Oct. 21 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Most never even knew his last name or even if he had one, simply referring to him as Paul or “Little Paul.”
But by any name, Paul Elieff was among the most beloved souls in all of San Marino until he died on Sunday morning. He was 60 years old.
A lifelong city resident, Little Paul was a ubiquitous figure who was familiar to all and known by many. His daily routine took him on walks from his home on Hampton Road to — in no particular order — Lacy Park, City Hall, the Crowell Public Library, the fire and police departments and the San Marino Center. Recognizable by his ever-present smile, faux tuxedo T-shirts, ball cap and pants pockets overloaded with a day’s supply of Dr Pepper or Diet Coke, Little Paul roamed the city at will.
Since his passing, social media have been abuzz with affectionate tales of his travels, each highlighted by appreciation for his affable nature.
One commenter, Marissa Berg, even posted a picture of Paul that was taken at her wedding reception when he wandered in to “grab a few [non-alcoholic] drinks and have a ball in our photo booth.”
“He was a San Marino legend and will be missed,” Berg said.
Lainnie Capouya mentioned that Paul dropped by a party at her house on a pilgrimage for soda. “He will make a very fine angel as he has had plenty of practice and experience here in San Marino,” she said.
“He enjoyed watching our Little League practices and games in the 1970s at the Huntington Middle School ball fields,” said Mark Hilands, who grew up in town. “He was such a gentle soul. I always enjoyed seeing him because he seemed to be genuinely happy.”
Liz and Dennis Kneier met Little Paul 37 years ago when they moved in across the street. They looked after him for the remainder of his life — providing backup to Little Paul’s cousin and live-in caregiver, also named Paul — and organized birthday parties each May 1 in his honor. Little Paul’s most recent birthday — No. 60 — seemed to mark a symbolic, yet eventually premature, end to the pandemic. On Monday morning, Liz Kneier said she had recently been contemplating party ideas for No. 61.
“He always had the cheerful greeting, ‘How’s your day?’” Dennis Kneier said with a chuckle. “It was a greeting he’d repeat several times during each conversation, I think because he really cared how we were doing.”
Kneier mentioned Little Paul’s special relationship with members of the fire and police departments.
“He’d walk in, talk with everyone, and catch up with what’s going on,” Kneier recalled. “Sometimes he’d help himself to food in the refrigerator, a practice we had to stop when he was caught eating a special lunch for a diabetic firefighter.”
Obviously, there were no hard feelings. The San Marino police and firefighters sent statements mourning the death of their friend, as if an important dignitary had passed away. Which, of course, he had.
“Every one of us from the San Marino Firefighters’ Association were saddened to hear the news of Little Paul’s passing,” said Nathan Foth, president of the union. “Paul was and always will be a legend with all of those who knew him in the city and in the Fire Department. Paul always had a positive, upbeat attitude even when things in life weren’t going his way, and his late night station visits in search of Diet Coke will be missed by us all. The San Marino firefighters send our most sincere thoughts and prayers to Little Paul and his entire family.”
Naved Qureshi of the San Marino Police Officers’ Association also weighed in.
“Paul was a dear friend to San Marino police officers and myself,” he said on behalf of the organization. “Paul was always walking around town saying ‘hi’ to each of us as we passed or stopped by him. Several times Paul’s scooter ran out of batteries and we assisted him home. Paul would always say hello with a smile and ask us how we were doing.”
The cops appropriately nicknamed Little Paul “Dr Pepper” due to his beverage of choice, which was never much beyond arm’s reach.
“Over the years, Paul would end up in the city’s employee lot visiting police officers and always with a smile,” Qureshi said. “Paul was a genuinely caring individual. He will be greatly missed.”
Steve Talt knew Little Paul long before he was elected to the San Marino City Council. The last time Talt saw Paul, he approached him in the middle of a contentious council meeting to deliver a can — his preferred packaging — of Dr Pepper.
“My family and I are saddened by Paul’s passing,” Talt said. “Speaking with Paul would always make my day as he would greet me with a smile, ask me how I was doing and offer me a soft drink if he had an extra. He also had this wicked sense of humor, that was always good-natured. I would see Paul everywhere in town, either on his bike, at football games or at city or school meetings, occasionally even speaking during the public comment section of the meeting.
“He was truly the prince of San Marino, who touched many, and his absence will be felt in our hearts. My condolences to his brother, Peter.”
Peter Elieff expressed his appreciation for the entire San Marino community “who treated my brother so, so very well.”
Plans for a memorial service are pending, but in the meantime, Little Paul’s admirers may wish to throw back a Dr Pepper or Diet Coke today in his honor, and smile.