England is retiring after 36 years with O’Connor Utility District
By Sparta Live | November 13, 2017 6:01 am
By JENNIE IVEY – contributor
When Bransford England became a member of the O’Connor Utility District Board of Directors back in 1981, the district had little more than a monkey wrench and a shovel to try to provide water to 1,100 customers. But England and fellow board members Malcolm Alley and Charles Gilliam rolled up their sleeves and set to work turning things around.
“O’Connor started providing water service to customers in northern White County, in 1969,” England said. “But when I came on board, the district was in a ditch. We were rarely able to make our loan payments on time and typically lost 50 percent of our water because of leaks. We knew that if we didn’t turn things around, the FHA [the federal agency that lends funds to utility districts] was going to take us over.”
What were England’s qualifications for being appointed to the board?
“Basically, all you had to know was that water runs downhill and in any direction under pressure,” he said with a laugh.
But he’d started working as a plumber and electrician when he was just 17 years old, so, in truth, he knew a good deal about utilities. Most of his career – 40 years and 40 days, to be exact – was spent working as an electrical inspector for the state of Tennessee. He retired from that job in 2003 but continued his service with the O’Connor Utility District.
“Before there was ‘city water,’ folks got their water from wells and cisterns,” England said. “Because most of the rock around here is limestone, which doesn’t act as a good water filter, 90 percent of the well water in White County is contaminated by septic tank overflow. That’s why it was so important to get treated water to the folks in this area.”
How did he and fellow board members turn things around?
“We used sound business judgment,” England said. “We hired honest people who were willing to work hard to make this district grow and prosper.”
They also bought a 1960s-era backhoe so that the digging no longer had to all be done by hand.
“It took us about three years to bring about a complete change in direction,” he said. “We were assertive in getting things straightened out financially and in fixing leaks and running new water lines.”
The original utility office was located on Duck Pond Road. They moved into a small concrete block building at the existing location, 4210 Roberts-Matthew Highway, in 1985. That building was destroyed in the summer of 1998 when the driver of a logging truck parked at a store across the road. The truck’s brakes failed, and it rolled into the utility office. Fortunately, no one was injured.
These days, the O’Connor Utility District has a beautiful office complete with a spacious boardroom. The district has eight employees: Manager Tony Maggart II; office manager Judy Null; administrative assistants Joyce Gardenhire and Angie Murdock; and field staff Jerry Baker, Kyle Clouse, Randall Price and Christian Nash. It is the largest of the five water utility districts in White County. O’Connor buys water that has already been treated from the cities of Cookeville and Sparta, stores it in tanks, and distributes it to 3,500 customers through 205 miles of pipeline.
“Our population is growing, and we’re growing to serve them,” England said. “We’re supplying water to the new industrial park near the airport, which is a wonderful asset to White County.”
England turned 90 earlier this year and decided it was time to retire from the board. The folks at O’Connor threw him a retirement party in October. His colleagues, Michael Stevens and John Adams, will continue to serve on the board, along with a new member who has not yet been appointed.
What’s next for Bransford England? He hasn’t completely given up the notion of preaching.
“I was raised just up the road in Macedonia Baptist Church,” he said. “I guess that’s where I first heard the call to preach.”
He’s pastored churches for more than 50 years, 27 of those years at New Union Baptist Church, in DeKalb County.
“I’ve served several other churches through the years and have preached revivals in eight states,” he said. “But I never made a living at it. Country Baptist preachers would go hungry if that was the only job we had!”
The top item on his to-do list is spending time with Helen, his wife of 67 years, and their three sons, seven grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren.
England said, “I’m grateful for so many things in my life, including being able to serve the people of this area by helping provide safe, clean water.”