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Wearing a smile, maintenance worker proud to keep schools in tip-top shape

He’s not hanging from ropes anymore, but he’s still “blessed, grateful and thankful” for his three decades with the Halifax County Public School system.

Maintenance employee Al Garrett will have been with the maintenance department at the school system for 33 years in July.

Garrett served as a substitute bus driver while he was still in high school until he got a job with Daystrom Furniture.

“We were on rotating shifts at Daystrom, and they were about to lay me off, and I needed a job,” said Garrett explaining how he came to the school position.

He has worked for seven superintendents, two directors and three foremen in his tenure with the school system.

During that time he has found his favorite part of the position to be painting.

“I like to see the before and after,” said Garrett.

More than 30 years ago, Garrett was hired to be on the painting crew and as a maintenance helper. He admits still to this day he enjoys maintenance and working except for those days when they are instructed to work in the extreme cold weather and have to be outside.

According to Garrett, years ago maintenance employees had to paint the roofs of schools like Virgilina, C.H. Friend, Clover and Turbeville. All of these schools are closed now.

Employees were suspended from the roofs by ropes held by other employees as one man painted and the other held their body weight, said Garrett. Other times they were using 40 to 50 foot ladders, he added.

It wasn’t until current Director of Operations and Maintenance Larry Roller came along that things began to really change.

“Roller started to rent the eco lift from Bo’s Hydraulics, and it was a big help,” said Garrett. “He eventually bought it.”

Garrett recalled a conversation he had with former Director Harrison in the late 80s when he returned to the shop after painting the roof at Clover Elementary, and Harrison was laughing.

“I wasn’t laughing. I was 50 feet in the air all day hanging by a five-foot rope,” said Garrett.

“I am grateful for the changes and safety improvements through the years…big improvement from being on 40-50 foot ladders,” he added.

Other changes include the closing of buildings and schools. The maintenance department was once responsible for more than 20 buildings. Garrett also has seen equipment modernized including the changes in ladders.

Along the way, he has developed skills in painting that have led him to have his very own paint business on the side.

“I have received a few compliments about my painting too,” said a proud Garrett.

However, if there were one thing he could stress to the community, it would be to look at the conditions the maintenance department keep the schools in for the students and staff rather than “worrying about where we are en route to.”

“All we hear is all we do is ride the roads, but the buildings are in excellent shape, and they are results of what we do,” said Garrett.

Through the years he has been thankful for his job, the people he has worked for and with because “they have all been enjoyable.”

Grateful to the system, Garrett said he can always be found wearing a smile on the job, and he comes in ready every Monday morning. 

“This job has bought my home, put two kids through college and everything…I have been blessed, grateful and thankful,” concluded Garrett.

Garrett resides in Clover with his wife, Karen, and they have two children.

Editor's note

This is part of an occasional series The Gazette-Virginian is publishing this year spotlighting unsung heroes in the education arena.