Elevator Mechanic Rises to Meet Job's Challenges

UVA Today is highlighting the winners of the 2011 Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contribution Award winners. Today: James Dowell of Facilities Management. To see all of the stories, click here.

May 26, 2011 — James Dowell was enjoying a Sunday off from his job as an elevator mechanic at the University of Virginia when his cell phone rang.

An elevator in a first-year residence hall, Cauthen House, had broken down, leaving a wheelchair-bound student unable to get back to her room. The student called her parents, who in turn called the Facilities Management Systems Control Center. Systems Control called Dowell.

He was an hour outside of town; worse, he did not have his car. Nonetheless, once the circumstances were relayed to him, he said he was on his way.

He got a friend to drive him to Charlottesville, and en route, he called the stranded students' parents to let them know help was coming. Upon arrival on Grounds, he quickly repaired the elevator, then called the student – and her parents – to let them know everything was in working order. Another friend gave him a ride home.

Word of Dowell's rescue reached Paul Zmick, the mechanical trades superintendent, who had only been on the job for three months. He made a few calls.

"By talking to customers and colleagues of James', I was convinced that this was very typical for James, and the pride he demonstrates for his workmanship and the dedicated attitude he comes to work with every day set the tone for the academic elevator shop," Zmick wrote in successfully nominating Dowell for a 2011 Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contribution Award.

"When this event occurred, James was not receiving stand-by pay and didn't have to respond," he added. "But he did, and had been responding like this for years."

"It's typical," Dowell's supervisor, Eddie Morris, agreed. "That's just one of many things he's done. I think his mindset is that it's all about U.Va. He likes to work here; he looks out for the people. He's all about the people.

"I'm glad he got the award because of the attitude he shows and the initiative he has."

The incident had another positive effect: Facilities Management established a new stand-by system for responding to an entrapment or critical elevator failure at any time of day or night.

— By Dan Heuchert

Media Contact

Dan Heuchert

Assistant Director of University News and Chief Copy Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications