After 18 years as a Garner town employee, Demetrius Hunter will retire, leaving someone else to handle the wide range of tasks he’s executed over the years – some more pleasant than others.
That someone will have big shoes to fill; Hunter earned such respect that he was named town employee of the year in 2008 -- a feat more impressive because it was the first time the annual peer-voted award had been granted.
“I was surprised,” Hunter said of that award. “There were so many other people here that I thought were better candidates than me, but employees seemed to think otherwise.”
Up until he worked his last day Friday, the streets and maintenance technician handled everything from public requests to enforcement of various town codes to maintenance of the towns 18,000 trash cans. In a given year he’d pick up hundreds of non-compliant signs and hundreds of less pleasant items: animals hit in the road.
His boss, public works director Paul Cox, said Hunter largely handled customer service out of the department’s front office, but did much more.
“He could do anything in the department,” Cox said, naming tasks like operating a snow plow truck or a lawnmower. “He lives in town, so he wound up getting a lot of calls that might have went elsewhere because he was close by. You didn’t have to explain to him every little detail, he just knew how to do it.”
Hunter, 62, started working for the town when the food processing plant where he worked closed shop in the Triangle. By then, the Raleigh native had already lived in Garner for more than a decade.
He started with parks, but eventually ended up working streets. At the March 18 council meeting where he was honored, Town Manager Hardin Watkins noted a particular task that the town may have trouble finding eager replacements for when Hunter is gone: Hunter hauled off 307 dead animals from town streets in one year.
A master of many tasks
But Hunter, shy and brief at the meeting, explained that he didn’t want to be known as the guy who picked up dead animals.
“I don’t want to emphasize in the newspaper that that’s what I do. That’s not all I do,” Hunter said. “When you mention it to people, that’s all they think you do.”
Watkins had also rattled off a number of other stats outlining Hunter’s contribution. For example he physically removed 984 signs last fiscal year alone, typically because they were in the public right-of-way without permission or violated some other town ordinance. He also mentioned the 278 trash piles improperly put out by the streets about which Hunter would have to approach residents.
“As you can tell, he’s a busy fellow who does a myriad of things for us,” Watkins said. “He always does it with a smile, he’s always very pleasant.”
Watkins read off several testimonials to Hunter’s courteousness and dedication to serving residents. That along with the amount of work he put in captured many of he reasons why he was the first person Garner employees decided to honor with the new award.
At the meeting, long-time councilman Jackie Johns commented on the disposition that earned Hunter his award and respect.
“I see him almost every day when I’m walking,” Johns said. “And he always had a smile on his face, and he never meets me without speaking.”
After nearly two decades, Hunter will have to find ways to pass the free time like any other retiree. He likes to garden, which other town employees say he will show when you see his yard. He also likes to fish a little. He’s not sure about a travel bucket list, but thinks he and his wife of 36 years might check out Las Vegas at some point.
“It ain’t really hit me yet. It feels a little different,” Hunter said of retirement at the beginning of his last week. “I’m sure I’ll get over it,” he added with a slight chuckle.