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Octogenarian Keeping North Carolina Roads Safe

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Image of DOT worker Hubert Elliot

Photo Courtesy NCDOT

Safety is a top priority for Department of Transportation workers – and not just their own safety. DOT workers help keep the roads safe for us through maintenance, inspection and construction. They also perform important tasks such as helping clear accidents in heavy traffic and cutting back vegetation so drivers can see important road signs.

We travellers owe a debt of gratitude to these folks who come out to work for us in good weather and bad, 24/7. So when I read about Hubert Elliot, I simply had to share his story with you.

For most 80 year olds, life is about relaxing with grandchildren and enjoying retirement. Not for Rowan County Transportation Worker Hubert Elliot. This octogenarian works 40 hours a week hauling dirt, asphalt, gravel and anything else the job requires.

He helps patch bumpy roads across the county, and when winter weather hits the area, Elliot is behind the wheel of his work truck spraying the roads with salt brine and breaking up ice just as well as coworkers who are half his age or younger. In fact, during the winter snowstorms of 2011, he worked 24-hour shifts doing snow and ice removal. And yes, he is 80 years old.

“I just try to do the best I can,” Elliot said humbly.

He started working at the Rowan County Maintenance Yard 13 years ago at the spry age of 67. He took a job at N.C. Department of Transportation after his friend repeatedly encouraged him to apply. Although 67 sounds like a mature age to start such a hands-on career, Elliot was well prepared for it. He has worked jobs that have kept him moving for most of his life.

“As long as you keep working, you’ll be alright,” Elliot said.

He grew up on a farm in China Grove in Rowan County where he worked in the cotton fields. When he got older, he enlisted in the military in 1946 and ran a cafeteria during his time in service. He also operated his own auto service station and saw much of America as a transfer truck driver. Elliot believes that remaining active since childhood is what keeps him active now.

His favorite part of his job with NCDOT is the people. Elliot enjoys his coworkers, and his coworkers enjoy him, too.

“He’s always happy to be here,” said Tamra Safriet, who works at the maintenance yard. “His attitude and smile inspire people in the office.”

“If someone asked him for help, he’d do it,” said Transportation Worker Kelly Myrick. “There’s nothing negative I can say about him.”

Elliot shies away from saying that he is a mentor to his younger workmates, but they say they gain a lot of wisdom and insight from him. “A lot of these guys look at him like a father figure,” Safriet said.

His boss agrees. “His positivity and eagerness to work challenge me to do my job as best I can,” said Rowan County Maintenance Engineer Kevin Neal.

Todd Eddleman rode with Elliot during his training to become a transportation worker. When he saw what Elliot did on a daily basis, he was amazed. “I hope I can do that when I’m his age,” he said. During Eddleman’s training, Elliot took him down many roads, some Eddleman did not even know existed. “If there’s a shorter way to get from point A to point B, he knows it,” Eddleman said.

Elliot’s doctors are astonished at the daily work he does. He says they ask him when he will retire. His answer is always, “I don’t know.” He plans to keep working for as long as he can. And as the oldest employee in the NCDOT Division of Highways, he has certainly set a precedent for longevity. “I feel like I’ve done a good job,” Elliot said.

Doctors are not the only ones impressed by his endurance and energy. “He’s older than us and has twice the energy!” said fellow transportation worker Mike Erwin.

When Elliot is not working, he is spending quality time with his family. He has been married to his wife for 62 years, and they will celebrate their 63rd anniversary in December. The couple has one daughter, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

But Elliot says the work he has done, though awe-inspiring to most, has not been by his own doing. “I give the good Lord credit for that,” he said.