Willie Witchard, gone fishin’


ST. PETERSBURG – Willie D. Witchard, Jr. has spent the better part of the last 26 years working for Pinellas County in various positions at the Pinellas County Utilities, Water and Sewer Department. And after a lifetime of service, he’s finally able to allocate his remaining years to relaxing and spending time with family.

Not satisfied with the sendoff Willie received from the county, family members decided to throw their own bash complete with songs, speeches, good food and gifts.

“You have worked very hard to earn this day,” said his wife Vera in a letter she wrote. Willie’s sister retired Senior Master Sergeant Veronica Spears was mistress of ceremonies and had the honor of reading it aloud to gathered coworkers, friends and family members as husband and wife gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. “Now it’s time to kick off your shoes, lay back and relax,” she said in her letter.

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Like most, Willie’s work sometimes wasn’t the easiest to stick with. There were times he had to overcome negative attitudes from coworkers and tense moments on the job. With over 26 years invested with the city, Willie learned to take it all in stride. A diligent worker, he tirelessly did what he had to do in order to put food on the table for his wife and children.

Elder Eugene Huff of The Upper Room Church of God in Christ gave the opening prayer to kick things off at the retirement party held Sat., May 24 at the Magnuson Hotel Marina Cove.

“Sometimes you feel like giving up, sometimes you feel like running away,” he preached. A feeling that Willie could have chosen to act on, but he didn’t. “We have to be right there. We’ve been assigned to a post,” said Huff.

So when Willie found himself fighting to keep his job just nine months into the hiring phase, he stood his ground and hired a lawyer. The consensus was that Willie couldn’t handle the fieldwork, so he was placed in a position within the warehouse as a utility maintenance worker, receiving less pay.

George Smith, Willie’s co-worker and longtime friend remembers those earlier times. “We always talked when we would see each other,” Smith said recounting how they would meet for breakfast on their days off and soon became close friends as the weeks and months went by.

Told he needed to stay busy, if you wanted to talk to Willie on the job, you had better put on your walking shoes because as Smith said, “you were going to walk with him while he worked – he was not one to stop and talk.”

For seven years Willie did his job never complaining. Soon he was placed in a different warehouse with a different boss and Willie was soon encouraged to fill out an application for a promotion. He did just that and was promoted to property and storage clerk in 1995, where he worked another 18 years. Just this past year Willie was promoted again.

He interviewed for various other jobs throughout the years, but according to Smith, management went around Willie, always hiring someone else. But Willie did not complain. He continued to work hard to provide a good life for his family nonetheless and built strong family ties.

“Willie went through a lot on his job,” confided Smith who elaborated on Willie’s woes and how he dealt with them. “Not being promoted, the lowest paid person in the warehouse, doing most of the work in the warehouse, but Willie went home after work to take care of his family, pay the bills and make sure they had food to eat and a roof over their heads.”

And it was that family who collaborated on the retirement shindig, which consisted of delicious eats such as fried chicken and fish, macaroni and cheese, corn bread and an assortment of sides. The entertainment was popping with sister Shameika Huff singing a melodious solo and Edified Praise members Devaugh & Jackie bringing down the house with their mime routine.

When it was time for Willie to speak, he didn’t spend his time discussing the ups and downs of his job. Instead he chose to honor the women in his life that have remained constant and an inspiration to him.

The first on his list to receive a bouquet of roses was his wife of 37 years, Vera, who stood by him through the good times and the bad. “You’re in my heart and my mind,” Willie said to her before facing his audience and admitting there is no other woman for him. “If I go before her it’s alright, but if she goes before me, I do know there will not be another woman.”

Willie also honored his mother. With 13 children to feed, clothe and take care of, Mama Witchard had her hands filled. But Willie remembers his childhood times with her fondly and credits her strength to making him the family man he is today.

“I know she had to set the table many days when we didn’t have food to eat. We had bread and water,” he revealed. “Look, when I tell you, I know where we come from.”

And to his sisters he also presented flowers recognizing their personal strengths and commitment to family. He also spoke fondly of his daughter who wasn’t able to get time away from her military job in order to attend, but who was instrumental in the planning of his party.

He also honored his sister-in-law, Loretta, for stepping up and providing support and love during his wife’s sickness some seven years ago. “I’ll never forget, I can trust her,” he said acknowledging he listens when she approaches him with what needs to be done in life. “This woman here is just a jewel.”

But dressed all out in a tux, Willie D. Witchard, Jr. loved it all and finally getting his chance to revel in the respect and admiration he worked his whole life to achieve. Laughter, smiles and at times a trickle of a tear could be glimpsed as he was crowned with his new hat – literally.

Decked out in fishing lures and various other accessories, Willie donned the hat regardless of it clashing with his formal attire, and smiled ready to embark on the new phase of his life.

But as the afternoon came to a close, Willie’s sister Veronica unveiled yet another road Willie may choose to travel upon. A metal trashcan filled to the hilt with tools for work around the house. Perhaps Willie will need a retirement from his retirement pretty soon.

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