Still Searching For That Good Job
Written by Grady Smith, President and CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative
In 1972, my life was at a crossroads. I had spent the past 3 ½ years at St. Bernard College working toward my degree so I could become a schoolteacher and coach. I did my practice teaching that spring, and realized, much to my surprise, that teaching was not best suited for me.
I left school, and needed a job other than my Birmingham News delivery route. Someone suggested I check and see if there were any jobs at the Cullman Electric Co-op as they often hired summer help for the right-of-way crew. I made an appointment with the co-op manager, Mr. Claude Wood, and was fortunate enough to be offered full-time employment. My Dad asked me what I thought about the job and what was I going to do. My response was, “it will do for now I guess. I can work there at least until I can find a good job for the long haul.”
Some 46 years later here I am about to retire from the place where I went to work on May 15, 1972. I still haven’t found a better job.
I started work at Cullman Electric Cooperative digging holes for poles and cutting right of way. I spent several years as a lineman and serviceman climbing poles, working non-stop for several days to restore electric service after storms, doing maintenance work and building new lines. That’s what linemen do. As I’ve said many times, if you’re cut out for it, it’s the best job in the world. It’s certainly not a career for everyone.
My next stop was in the Engineering Department where I designed new lines for new electric services to be built. A while later I was promoted to Associate Engineer and then to Superintendent of Operations where I was responsible for all substations and all equipment located on the distribution lines you see along the roads across the system.
In November 1985, I moved to DeFuniak Springs, Florida, where I was the Vice President of Engineering and Operations at Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, more commonly referred to as CHELCO. In 1994, I accepted the job as General Manager of Cherokee Electric Cooperative in Center, Alabama. I was there until I came back to Cullman Electric Cooperative as President & CEO in December 1997.
There’s an old saying, “you can’t go home again.” I have to disagree. The past 20 years have worked out pretty well for me.
I’ve worked with a lot of folks over these years from board members to employees. I’ve worked with a lot of co-ops member-owners during this time to resolve problems, help them acquire new electric service, and address a long list of issues. I’ve worked on utility issues at the state government level in both Florida and Alabama. I’ve visited our nation’s capital where I’ve met with Senators and Representatives to voice support for issues that affect the co-op member owners across this country. I even found time to go back and finish my degree at St. Bernard, and earn three more degrees along the way.
What a ride it’s been.
I remember one time my Daddy loaned a wheelbarrow to a friend. They used it to mix concrete in, and when it was returned it hadn’t been washed out. Some concrete had dried in the wheelbarrow. It wasn’t me that left the concrete to dry but I spent a lot of time chipping it out. My Daddy told me there was a life-lesson to learn there. “When you borrow or take responsibility for something, always return it or leave it in better shape than when you got it,” he said. Some 60 years later, I still have that wheelbarrow. Every time I see it in the barn I think of my Daddy and that lesson.
As I leave Cullman Electric Cooperative, I hope the part I’ve been responsible for over the past 46 years is in better shape than it was when I found it. If parts of it aren’t, it’s being left in the hands of some mighty good folks that I know for a fact can excel in chipping concrete.
Early in my career, when we would finally get all the outages cleared and power restored after storms rolled through, my friend and fellow lineman, Garvis Chaney, would pick up the truck radio microphone, mash the mic button and declare to those listening, “another job well done by your co-op men in action.”
My job here is done. It’s been my great honor to serve each of you.