A pile of sawdust and a handshake: they say that’s how the Entergy story began. This narrative may be accurate for those who helped Harvey Couch found the company more than a century ago, but my Entergy story began after opening a cardboard box and being mesmerized by a lineman’s truck and tools.
I’m from Louisiana, and I work for Entergy. It’s what my dad says, and it’s what his dad said too – well, sort of.
Pawpaw worked for New Orleans Public Service Inc., commonly known by locals as NOPSI. I was a teenager when I first encountered anything NOPSI. While rummaging through a cardboard box in my parents’ attic, I found a tattered, grey, crew-neck shirt. In the top-left corner was a green, white and black logo. I sensed the shirt meant something to someone. Dad wouldn’t keep a shirt that archaic unless he needed cloth for working with motor oil. And those were usually squirreled away in the shed.
I asked about the shirt, and though I don’t recall Dad’s explanation verbatim, the long and short of it is that NOPSI had served the city since the early 1900s. It was an electric and gas utility provider and, at one time – a mass transit provider that fell under the umbrella of the then-Middle South Utilities. The transit system has since been transferred to the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, and electric and gas services now fall under Entergy New Orleans, a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation.
Pawpaw, a Navy Reserve veteran, started out as a substitute city bus driver. He eventually earned a permanent position and, later, steered streetcars. In the ‘70s, he joined the meter services department – a move that had an impact on Dad and, through him, me. Dad claims Pawpaw could read a meter at 20 miles per hour. He could spot dials from afar and knew the last reading and where subsequent readings should be. (He probably was pulling my leg, but still it’s a great story.)
Pawpaw received the folded stars of Old Glory in July 2014. But long before passing, he showed Dad the ropes. When he was 10, Dad started visiting Pawpaw at the NOPSI office on Baronne Street in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District. The awe of that experience stayed with him and eventually inspired him to also work for NOPSI in the line department. Like father, like son, right? Dad and Pawpaw worked for NOPSI at the same time for roughly six years in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
As a child, I remember Dad walking through the front door late in the evenings – boots and jeans covered in mud. The Entergy logo, a bright red rising sun, stood in stark contrast to the rest of his gear. He always brought with him what I thought was the never-ending story. But, boy, did he love to tell it.
Not only does he safely work to keep the lights on for New Orleanians, Dad also has traveled across the U.S. helping to safely restore power to communities hit by hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms. He has been as far south as Brownsville, Tex., and as far north as Oklahoma and Missouri in the American heartland and as far east as North Carolina.
There’s one ice storm he’ll never forget. It caused much of the Mississippi Delta to lose power near the border of Arkansas and Mississippi. Dad was sent to help get the lights back on in Cleveland, Miss., and recalls that the weight of ice had caused electrical poles to crack and fall like dominoes.
Having occupied hotels, gymnasiums and tent cities with many other dedicated crew members, Dad is familiar with cold showers and 16-hour days. He’s also familiar with the adrenaline, the rush and the fulfillment of helping others get their lives back to normal in disaster-stricken communities.
I remember being fascinated by the truck and tools my dad used on the job, but I wasn’t envious of the physical labor – and he knew it. Dad often told me, “You’d better stay in school.”
Dad didn’t always walk the line. During and following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, he was assigned to work in the Distribution Operations Center rather than out in the field. There, “all hands on deck” took on new meaning. He was tasked with keeping track of feeders that had been knocked out of service by the powerful and devastating storm. When off the clock, he toured Baton Rouge, La., in search of a place for our family to live because the storm’s floodwaters had displaced us from our St. Bernard Parish home.
Entergy employee donations put clothes on my back, and one of Dad’s co-workers helped find us a house in Jefferson Parish with affordable rent. As you can imagine, we were very grateful.
Zooming back out to that old NOPSI shirt, I wore it several times before the threads couldn’t take another washing. Though it was endangered material, it wasn’t the last of its kind. Dad had another NOPSI shirt and recently was planning to give it to a co-worker – also a third-generation Entergy employee – as part of the nostalgia. The co-worker’s dad had started working for NOPSI the same day my dad did.
Admittedly, I was surprised to hear that I was one of many who followed their parents and grandparents into the utility industry. But regardless of whether you’re a third-, second- or first-generation employee, a supporter, or just an avid fan – your Entergy story began somewhere, somehow.