CONYERS — Labor Day, the first Monday of September, is a national holiday in the United States and Canada initiated in the late 19th century to celebrate the contributions of labor to society. Considered the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day weekend traditionally brings outdoor activities — picnics, barbecues and trips to the lake.
To honor the holiday this year, the Citizen interviewed several local employees about their jobs, asking what they do, how they got there and what are the rewards and challenges.
Lt. Michael Gassett works for Rockdale Fire and Rescue at Fire Station 9 on Walker Road, south of Conyers.
A Florida native, Gassett spent six years in the Navy as a corpsman, then moved to Georgia in 1996. He and his wife, Therise, a sheriff’s deputy, have raised three children, two in college and a one at Heritage High School.
Gassett credits his father, Morris Gassett, and mother, Margaret (a Conyers resident), for instilling a solid work ethic in him and his two siblings.
“They rewarded you for hard work. Work hard and you got a reward,” Gassett said.
Gassett joined the fire department in 1999 after working for National EMS. Current North Battalion Chief Kevin Waites and now retired Battalion Chief Daniel Johnson “took me under the wing and showed me the ropes,” he said.
“They made life in the department very easy, made the job one where you want to be here.”
Gassett also commends the lieutenants he’s worked with along the way.
“A lot of what I do today I learned from them,” he said. “We call them the old-timers.”
One of Gassett’s responsibilities as lieutenant is to do a “scene sizeup” when approaching a fire.
“I have to read the conditions to let the others know,” he said. “You have to understand the situation and come up with the right tactics. I’m looking at the area as we arrive, reading the smoke.”
A mostly wood fire produces a brownish smoke, he said, while plastic smoke is blackish and chemical smokes give off colors such as orange. Each type of fire requires different tactics.
“What I like about the job is the pride I get from helping others, being able to do something for others in their time of crisis,” Gassett said. “It can be stressful but rewarding. What you put into it is what you get out of it.”
He added that a firefighter has to be in it for the right reasons.
“If you’re trying to be a super hero, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. This job is about duty, honor and giving back to the community.”
A Native American of Cherokee heritage from Oklahoma, Dale Dobbs serves as attendance secretary at Salem High School in Conyers.
Dobbs joined the school in 2007 as internship secretary and took on her current duties in 2009.
“I have been around Salem so long I fill in wherever I am needed,” she said. “I assist the registrar, records department and the front office.” Indeed, on the day she was photographed, Dobbs was filling in at the front desk.
In Oklahoma Dobbs worked in the billing department and as an industrial buyer for Tulsa Paper Company/Mead Merchants.
“My most important role was being a mother to a wonderful son and daughter who both have their master degrees and are still continuing their education,” she said.
Dobbs values her mother and father for being great influences on her life.
“They taught me to be faithful to God and make your word be your bond. They were two of the kindest, most generous people I have ever known,” she said.
Asked what she likes most about her job, Dobbs said, “Working with the future leaders of America and helping them to understand that the importance of an education starts with attendance. I enjoy being around young people and learning about their lives and what inspires them.”
What advice would she give to a young person pursuing a career in her line of work?
“Get your college degree — it will positively impact the rest of your life in any line of work.”
Don’t tell Bulldog fans, but one of Dobbs’ leisure activities is watching Oklahoma football. She also likes teaching children’s Bible classes, traveling, playing tennis and reading.
“I love being actively involved in life and I do not want to ever be classified as retired,” she said.
A native of Covington who lives in Conyers, Nicky Singleton works in Porterdale as a utility clerk.
Singleton was hired by the village in 2014 as a temporary employee.
Raised by her parents, Horace (now deceased) and Beverly Dyer, along with her three siblings, Singleton attended Ficquett Elementary, Sharp Middle School and Newton County High School, where she graduated in 1997. She holds a college degree from Georgia State University.
Singleton, who is married and has a nine-year-old son, said, “There are no real challenges with my current job,” and added that she enjoys her work very much.
“Every day is different, so there are very few dull moments,” she said. “I have the pleasure or working with a very small group of individuals, and we all get along well. I really enjoy working with our customers and meeting all the new people that come to the City Hall.”
Actually, there are some challenges that she faces regularly.
“I am very good at the game show Jeopardy,” she said.
Another pastime obsession is Pokemon Go.
“There are four Pokémon stops in Porterdale and one Pokémon Gym, so it is really easy to play. I also enjoy traveling, gardening and trying new restaurants,” she said.
Keith and Michael Murphy
Keith and Michael Murphy grew up in Newborn, where they acquired the basics for a solid work ethic.
Keith now lives in Mansfield and Mike in Social Circle, but both have served long careers as employees of the city of Covington. Long careers. We’re talking decades, here.
After a farm he worked on for six years went out of business, Keith joined the Covington Street Department as an equipment operator in 1983 and rose to his current position as assistant supervisor.
Likewise, Mike started out working at a local egg processing plant, has worked in the Covington Water and Sewer department since 1984 and now serves as crew leader.
Products of Mansfield Elementary, Cousins Middle and Newton County Comprehensive High School, the Murphy brothers will tell you their mother, Josephine (Jo) Murphy, influenced their lives tremendously.
“She raised three boys only with some help from my grandmother, Emma Barker,” Keith said. “She was a great lady. She worked at the mill in Porterdale to take care of us.”
To contribute to the effort, the Murphy brothers had to get jobs at a young age, which helped them form good work habits.
“I started working on a farm when I was a teenager and learned the value of hard work,” Keith said. “The willingness to work and be honest made me who I am.”
Keith’s main responsibilities with the street department are keeping the streets in good condition and the right-of-ways clean and cut.
“With the amount of traffic we see in Covington, our roads take a lot of abuse, and we have to be proactive in our maintenance,” he said.
“I love the people I work with,” he added. “We have a great group of people here at the city of Covington. Our citizens are great people as well and make my job enjoyable. They are our boss, after all.”
As a crew leader for water and sewer, Mike can put in long hours installing facilities, maintaining them and answering emergency calls late at night.
“A water main blows out, a sewer backs up. We’ve got to be there,” he said. “I got to bed about 11 last night. They called at 12 and I got back to bed at about 1:30. The night before the guy was taking a shower and suddenly had no water. They always call at midnight.”
He said often the late night problem can be fixed the next day if it isn’t causing major problems in the home or neighborhood, such as the broken water main washing out a street a few weeks ago.
“We had to stay and fix that. We were there all night,” he said.
“I like being outside. I like the work challenge. I like to help people. I don’t have any complaints,” Mike said.
Both brothers said that despite the struggles Josephine Murphy endured — she died of cancer and worked until the last test — she maintained a sunny disposition and never complained.
“That’s the only way to be, I reckon,” Mike said.