By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Although West Escambia Utilities still has plenty of veteran employees, the local utility lost eight decades of experience last week when Bobby Davis and Gloria Marshall Jones each clocked in — and out — for the final time.
Bobby, who has been with WEU for 43 years, and Gloria, who has worked there “only” 37 years, were honored on their last two days of employment. First, an intimate, employees-only luncheon was held for them on December 30. Then, on their last day of work, friends, well-wishers and customers who knew them dropped by Atmore City Hall’s Council Chambers to pay their respects.
“It’s not very often you lose 80 years of experience with two people,” WEU Manager Kenny Smith said. “That is a testament to the company, a testament to the town and a testament to them and what they’ve done for this town.”
Bobby, recognizable for his bushy beard, said he remembers when such facial hair was not allowed.
“I kind of let it go when the coronavirus was taking off,” he said, stroking the thick chin-whiskers that now dip to his chest. “Years ago, you couldn’t even wear one of these because you couldn’t get it under an air mask.”
Neither he nor Gloria expected when they first signed on with the utility company that their new jobs would turn into careers.
“Who thinks that far ahead?” Gloria asked. “I was raising my children then, and all I was concerned about was finding a decent job where I could stay on long enough that I could take care of my kids and put them through school. Thank God I have done that through this job.”
Bobby harbored similar thoughts when he was hired as a laborer.
“When I started, I figured it would be a short-term deal,” he said. “I worked for Mr. [Jessie] Caraway, Mr. [Tony] Albert and Ms. Patricia McKenzie, and I grew to love them. To this day, I owe everything to Mr. Caraway. We made a bond, and it got to the point where I wanted to stay with him. I was with him when he took his last breath [in 1999].”
Both quickly discovered the family atmosphere that permeated the company.
“This place is more like a family than a job,” said Gloria, who remembered some of the same people mentioned by Bobby. “I can remember that when I came to work here, people like that made me feel welcome. They didn’t say a whole lot, but what they did say had volume to it.”
She added, glancing at her soon-to-be former co-worker, that “they kept Bobby in line; they didn’t have to do too much with me.”
Gloria’s title was utility clerk, but she also handled “customer service, collections, you name it” over the past 37 years. She is a member of Concerned Citizens of Atmore and the Flower Club, as well as serving as financial secretary for New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. She plans to devote more time to each, while also helping care for her ailing mother.
“I have a lot of things that I’m already involved in that I haven’t been able to give my full attention to,” she said, noting that she has also had to deal in recent months with the loss of a sister. “For the last year or so, I haven’t been able to give (her social and church activities) hardly any attention. The biggest thing I’ll be doing now is helping my three sisters look after my mother.”
Bobby said he also has plans for his retirement but he’s not ready yet to disclose those plans.
“I’ll be doing something else; I just don’t want to make it public yet,” he grinned.
Smith said a workplace without the two veteran employees will take some getting used to.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with both of them for 30 years,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure, and we’re going to miss them dearly.”
Smith hinted that, retirement or not, he won’t hesitate to tap the pair’s expertise, should the occasion arise.
“I told them not to change their phone numbers,” he laughed.