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Robert Duffey is Master of the Lines

An EnergyUnited Crew Leader reflects on almost four decades of experience with the same company in his favorite place in the world: Home.

The work of a lineman requires a special type of character: someone who’s hardworking, selfless and dedicated to the trade. With almost four decades of experience at the same company, Crew Leader Robert Duffey has the ideal makeup. “A lot of the guys who work here now are younger than my lineman’s hammer,” he laughs. “Matter of fact, EnergyUnited was Davidson EMC back when I started over 37 years ago.”

Born and raised in Lexington where he still works today, Robert graduated from school and immediately began his search for a job to support his wife and son. “Davidson EMC was one of the better companies in the area, and very competitive. But it felt like something I could do,” he explains. “I won a job as a tree trimmer and never looked back.”

After months clearing right-of-ways, a spot on the line crew opened and Robert jumped at the opportunity, charting a course to attend line school each year and rise through the ranks. “I’ve been a Crew Leader for over 17 years now,” he says. “I have a three-man crew that I oversee. Some days I build underground lines. Other days they’re overhead. Whatever it takes to get folks’ lights going.”

In today’s economy, it’s rare for one person to stay with the same company for decades, but the work of a lineman is in a category of its own. “I love the independence of it. Being out and knowing that I have a job to do and the knowledge to get it done,” Robert says. “Working outside is a plus and every day’s different. I love the challenge of never knowing what to expect.”

As the seasons change in the great state of North Carolina, so do the daily demands on EnergyUnited linemen. For those who love their job like Robert, that’s part of the fun, but also part of the risk. When asked about the most challenging storm call in his storied career, Robert doesn’t blink. “Hurricane Hugo. We were told that morning that the storm would be hitting first thing, and nobody was going to be sent out until it passed,” he recalls. “Not the case. The lights went out at the main office, so we had to face it head on and get things up and running.”

One of the big differentiators between electric co-ops like EnergyUnited and other power companies is that support comes from afar. “We’ve gone out to Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia to help fellow linemen when harsh weather devastates their homeland,” he says, proudly. “And they’ve done the same for us. We’re all in it together. It’s a brotherhood.”

Aside from the bonds forged between linemen across the country, Robert takes great pride in helping member-owners when they need it most. “You go into places that have been torn apart, riding down the road in a convoy of power trucks,” he explains. “You get high fives and cheers from folks. It gives you this warm feeling, knowing that they’re relying on you to get their lives back to normal.”

Asked about any specific interactions with member-owners that he’s remembered through the years, Robert has plenty to choose from. “One lady called to say thank you after we restored power during an ice storm,” he laughs. “She was so happy that her power was back on so she wouldn’t have to sit on a cold toilet seat.”

When he’s not working the lines to keep Lexington in the light, Robert enjoys spending time with his growing family. “I have five grandkids and they’re like nothing else,” he says. “Trying to teach them common sense is my other job.”

With linemen like Robert Duffey at the helm, it’s no wonder EnergyUnited has grown into the state’s largest not-for-profit electric cooperative. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for timely news and insights, straight from the source.