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On Island Profile: Ira Wade


May 8, 2005 –– Deputy Public Works Commissioner Ira Wade says he won't ask his staff to do jobs he won't tackle himself. Indeed, he's been spotted emptying Cruz Bay garbage cans on the morning after the July 4th Celebration ends.
"You can't expect your subordinates to handle filthy items if you're not willing to do it yourself. I lead by example," he says..
And on a recent morning when his staff was off to celebrate St. Thomas Carnival J'ouvert, Wade was directing operations at the Susannaberg landfill.
Wade, 63, came to this point in his life by an unusual route. Born in Seguin, Texas, he moved to San Antonio when he was 12. After graduating from San Antonio Technical Vocational High School in 1959, he went into the U.S. Army.
Describing himself as a rebel, he said he enlisted to get away from his disciplinarian father.
"I ran into something similar, or even more strict," he says, a bit ruefully, of Army life.
However, he adds, he straightened out and learned to be a leader.
Wade spent 30 plus years in the Army, serving six overseas tours. He went three times to Korea, and once each to Germany, Thailand and Vietnam.
He spent much of that time as a licensed practical nurse working with pediatric dialysis patients. He retired from the Army in 1989 as an administrator.
Shortly thereafter, Wade moved to St. John with his former wife.
"I'd never been here before," he admits.
However, after decades in the military, he said he could adjust to living anywhere.
He planned to stay retired, but 1989's Hurricane Hugo intervened. He went to work as a chief of claims verification for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spending two years at that post.
After another few years in the claims and accountability office at the Human Services Department, he was offered his current position at Public Works.
Wade says he likes his job.
"It's never boring. There's a different challenge everyday."
For starters, he's short staffed. Wade says that while he has 12 people, he needs seven more. He says he especially needs more people to work on the roads.
Despite the staff shortage Public Works employees on St. John do have updated equipment to use, a factor Wade lists as one of his proudest accomplishments.
"Since we have new equipment, we're able to pick up garbage on a daily basis.".
However, shepherding the Public Works Department through the nightmarish aftermath of 1995's Hurricane Marilyn sits at the top of his accomplishments list. Debris was everywhere and working conditions were tough – at best.
He also says he's proud of improving sewage operations. He said the department now has line cleaning equipment.
Before the department got the line cleaning equipment, grease poured into the sewage system by Cruz Bay restaurant staffs caused the lines to back up and overflow. Wade says the grease was still a problem, but the line crews are able to keep it under control.
"We've reduced the amount of overflows by 99 percent," he said, knocking on wood to make sure one doesn't pop up unexpectedly.
Wade also noted that the enormous mound of garbage sitting at the Public Works Susannaberg Transfer Station since before he arrived was removed in 2002 and 2003.
"After we acquired the equipment," he said.
Wade said dealing with some, and he stressed some, Public Works contractors also taxes his patience.
"They'll know who I'm talking about," he said.
Wade plans to stay on the job at least for the next year or so because it keeps him on his toes. However, he said he'd like to retire when he hits 65 because he's worked almost his entire life. He said he started out caddying at golf club when he was eight or nine.
He doesn't have much free time, but said he enjoys spending what he has with his daughter, Shalise, 7. He also has six other children –– Anthony, 45, Ira III, 42, Kermit, 40, Duane, 33, Daryl, 25, and Diane, 22 –– who all live off island.
Meanwhile, he'll continue to be on the job day in and day out.
"I feel that every day I'm able to achieve something," he says.


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