My history of the first years of Subsurface Utility Engineering continues:
Last week we looked at events leading up to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) endorsing Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE). Hurricane Hugo had slammed into the Carolinas in September 1989 and the FHWA Office of Engineering’s emergency relief position was vacant. Thus, it fell to Jim Overton, the Acting Chief for the Railroads, Utilities, and Programs Branch, to (a) respond to numerous inquiries; (b) review requests for ER funding; (c) prepare letters approving or denying the requests; and (d) much more. I helped Jim as best I could, but my greatest value to him was filling in for the secretary. I was the only one in the office that knew how to type and use the new typewriter with word processing capabilities and there were lots of memorandums and letters that needed to go out.
We were getting overwhelmed. Fortunately, help arrived. Jerry Poston arrived to take over as Branch Chief. He immediately jumped in to help Jim and to direct our team. Consequently, we got the job done in a timely manner and Jerry recommended Jim and me for an award.
I wish I had a picture of Jerry but so far have been unable to find one. He was always very quiet and unassuming with a ready smile and a twinkle in his eye, and he had more than his fair share of what the Army called “command presence.” He would sit in his office most of the day smoking cigarettes and working on various things, but his office door was always open if any of us worker bees with cubbyholes in the big outer room needed help. He would always stop what he was doing, turn away from his work, and give us his full attention. Jim Overton was like that too.
Jerry soon filled the vacant positions and hired a cracker-jack secretary named Cleo Dorsey to replace me. Cleo told me with a mischievous smile that I was never to touch her typewriter again, so I reluctantly went back to my old job. It sure gave me a greater appreciation for the work that Cleo and other secretaries have to do.
Jerry Poston, Jim Overton, and I had become a pretty close team while working on the emergency relief. About a year later Jerry came to my cubbyhole one day and told me he had decided to split the railroad and utilities job into two full-time positions and wanted Bob Winans to keep the railroad position and me to take the utilities position. I hesitated to do so but Jerry convinced me that it was a great opportunity. Not long after that, early in 1991, Jerry and Jim came to me and told me they had something they wanted me to do concerning a new practice being used by the Virginia DOT called Subsurface Utility Engineering.
We will talk about that more in my post next week.