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August 6, 2001

Blazing her trail

By Eric Rangus


The first time the position of building mechanic in the Dobbs Center came open, Mary Woods passed it by.

A tradesworker in the P.E Center at the time, Woods just didn’t feel confident about making what would represent a huge step forward in many different ways.

No women had ever held the position of building mechanic, a person responsible for maintaining the lights, ballasts, plumbing and HVAC systems (among other things) for an individual building. And the DUC was one of Emory’s jewels—a prestigious assignment.

“I didn’t feel like I was ready to take on extra responsibilities,” said Woods, who had spent three years as a custodian in the P.E. Center before being promoted to tradesworker. “I was used to having someone there, like a crutch. I didn’t feel like it was time for me to move on, even though a lot of other people thought I was [ready].”

That was August 2000. But when the position opened up again this summer, Woods didn’t hesitate. She applied for it and got the job, taking over as the DUC’s building mechanic June 24.

With fewer students on campus over the summer, the transition has been pretty smooth, but the workload hardly has been light. Once recent morning, Woods changed out the ballasts, lights and transformers on a set of light fixtures, fixed a couple of leaks and pointed a group of painters to where they needed to go. All of that was just part of making the rounds, and it was all finished before lunch.

While FM is certainly an open, supportive and progressive place to work, it is still a male-dominated area of the University. But the gender demographic is one Woods laughs at when asked to discuss it.

“When I first came into the maintenance department, everybody was being very careful with what they said because I was a woman,” she said. “But after a while, they got used to it and started treating me like one of the guys.”

Still, as the first woman to be promoted to building mechanic, Woods said she hopes to serve as a role model to other women hoping to advance up the FM ladder.

“I try to talk and encourage [other women],” Woods said. “But I think some of them are a little fearful. They wonder, ‘How do you do that?’ or ‘What steps do you have to take?’ The first thing they say is, ‘I’m not going up on a ladder.’ I think some are a little scared to take the plunge.”

It’s a fear Woods understands completely. When she was working as a custodian and had the opportunity to move up to tradesworker—just like when the building mechanic position opened up last year—she passed it by.

“I was used to cleaning up. I was not used to changing bulbs or putting on flush handles. It was all new, and it was scary. When you travel in areas you don’t know, it’s scary. But sometimes you have to go out there and believe that you can do it. That’s the main thing—believing in yourself.”

She eventually took the tradesworker job and in her three years performed admirably. As her proficiency increased, so did her responsibility, which eventually led to her promotion.

Hard work and responsibility are hardly foreign concepts to Woods, not only in her career but in her home life as well. Her 47-year-old husband Westley (she laughs at the remarkable similarity to Wesley Woods, where both she and he worked) has battled diabetes since he was a teenager. A couple of years ago, he went on disability, and Woods had to care for him.

He was on dialysis for two years and underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant in February. While Westley’s prognosis is excellent—once his body adjusts to the new organs, he should fully recover—Woods continues to care for her homebound husband.

“With this job and taking care of him, you know I’ve got my hands full,” Woods said.

To get though what have been some pretty tough times, Woods, a devout Baptist, has relied on her faith. “Without it, I would’ve thrown in the towel long ago,” she said.

Woods also expressed gratitude to several members of FM’s management team, who gave her the flexibility to spend time with her husband during his long illness. “They were very understanding, compassionate and supportive,” she said, listing her manager, Charles Norris, assistant director of plant operations, and her current supervisor, Mark Kimbrough, as just two of the many people who stood by her in her time of need.

For the future, Woods said she wants to go “as far as she can go,”perhaps even pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.” In the present, though, she is happy concentrating on the new job, taking care of her home life and continuing to draw strength from her faith.

“You’ve got to have belief in yourself to do anything in life,” Woods said. “That’s how I balance out my life in work and at home, is my belief. I’m a true believer that all things are possible with God if you trust him. He will put you right where you want.”



Back to Emory Report August 6, 2001