By Justine Lines
At the end of 2012, David Wofford will retire from his job as Director of Damage Prevention at Texas811, a position he has held for the last 11 years. His thirty years of experience at Southwestern Bell, many of those in the area of damage prevention in North Texas, made him a prime candidate for the Directorship at Texas811 in 2001. During his first year in the North Texas program, David reduced damages to Southwestern Bell facilities by 50 percent. This combined with his passion for the concept of shared responsibility prompted Lee Marrs, President and CEO of Texas811, to call and ask David if he wouldn’t leave semi-retirement as an engineering consultant to Southwestern Bell and take a full time position at Texas811. David was impressed by the difference joining Texas811 had made in the reduction of damage to Southwestern Bell facilities, and appreciative of the positivity and cooperative spirit of what is now Texas811, so he accepted the position.
avid recollects, “It was very rewarding to be working with a group of people all pulling in the same direction. When Lee called me, that’s really what I thought of – how nice it was when we’d worked together before, when I worked in damage prevention for North Texas at Southwestern Bell. Here was a group of professionals from all parts of the industry, all working toward a common goal.”
Lee says, “I think David realized the need for communication and cooperation when he worked at Southwestern Bell. It’s commonplace, now, in the industry to talk about shared responsibility and working together, but in decades past, that was not the case. David recognized that need for shared responsibility long before many in the industry. He was truly a visionary. He went against the current of the prevailing attitude of the time – a punitive and distrustful relationship between excavators and utilities – and created ways for everyone to communicate and collaborate toward one goal – the safety of the community and the preservation of facilities. It is a testament to David’s ability to see different sides of an issue that we have an unprecedented amount of stakeholder involvement in damage prevention in Texas today.”
When David started with Texas811, there were only three or four regional Damage Prevention Councils in the whole state; there are now 23. Everyone in Texas is now less than two hours away from a Damage Prevention Council meeting and several of these councils have now become regional partners with the National Common Ground Alliance. That is pretty significant progress in creating communication and networking among regional stakeholders in a state as large as Texas.
David’s vision was that all stakeholders – regulatory, excavators, one-call systems, locators, surveyors, facility operators, designers, engineers, contractors, absolutely everyone involved in underground facility construction, public safety and damage prevention – could meet face to face and come up with solutions to common challenges and forge relationships.
“I feel that he and his team really fulfilled that vision,” said Lee.
When asked to describe the creation of local Damage Prevention Councils, David said, “When you’re dealing with Texas and the issue of damage prevention, you better recognize your adversary, which is not the people in the industry, but the state of Texas itself. If Texas were a country, it would be the 15th largest economy in the world. So, what you’re tackling there is a beast. But, I am a true believer in the saying, ‘You can eat a whale, but you have to do it a bite at a time.’ And that’s what our team did. We took Texas, divided it into 23 different areas and went after it. The guys, our team, did a remarkable job. Once we decided to do this, we laid it out and worked very hard for each success and got most of it done in a three year period. We were supported by our stakeholders, which was a huge achievement. This is a huge state – you can drive 16 hours and not leave it, but the best way to handle damage prevention issues is on a local level. The problems they have in El Paso are not the same problems they have in Beaumont or Texarkana or Houston. Realizing that we needed to divide the Texas concern for damage prevention into these local councils really gave these communities the resources and networking to work together to solve their special issues. The local stakeholders really understand their issues better than anyone, and now they are empowered to come up with reasonable solutions.”
When asked if the creation of these local councils was his proudest achievement at Texas811, David said “Well, I am very proud of the work our team has done, but I am proud of everyone I ever worked with at Texas811. We all worked together to improve our services. When I came to work there in 2002, we had 600 member companies. We currently have 1300 member companies. In 2001, we sent out 6.5 million notifications. This year, we’ll have sent out 11.5 million notifications. And that is due to the fine work of all the people in the notification center, our excellent management and outreach folks. It speaks to the professionalism of everyone who works at Texas811. I was honored to work there.”
In his retirement, David said he’ll be playing some golf, but he’s also looking forward to spending time with his family. “Taking on a project the size of Texas has meant a lot of traveling. I might have driven 30,000 miles a year. That much traveling means that you are giving up a lot of your family time. My beautiful wife of 36 years, Mindy, and I moved to Taylor, Texas, to be closer to my children and my grandchild.”
David and Mindy’s son, also named David, just finished his Master’s degree in Psychology and is opening a counseling and mindfulness practice in Austin. His lovely wife, Ladye Anne, gave the Woffords their wonderful grandson, Charlie, who is a joy in their lives. Their daughter, Molly, got her Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Manchester in England last year and is now the Executive Director of the non-profit Texas Partnership for Out of School Time, which provides services for children.
“We are so proud of them and really look forward to spending time with them. I also hope to spend some time giving back to the community in some way.”
When Lee was asked what he would miss about the departing Director of Damage Prevention, he said, “I will miss David’s sage counsel and his unique take on things, but I suspect that if David feels I need his advice, he’ll let me know. What can I say about David? It has just been an honor and a pleasure to work with him all these years.”