My command of language is not up to the task of describing the bittersweet feeling all of us at DC Water share on the retirement of Walt Bailey. We honor and celebrate the 43 years that Walt has invested in DC Water and its predecessor entities, rising from an engineer to Assistant General Manager of Wastewater Treatment. Like so many water authorities across the country and world, we face the retirement of some of the most successful and experienced professionals in our industry – many whom started their careers during the construction grants program in the 1970s, and now 40 plus years later are ready to hand the reins to the next generation.
Walt embodies the essence of our “greatest generation” – the folks who stepped forward and figured out how to implement the lofty mandates of the new Clean Water Act of 1972, and whom collectively have done more for the quality of the water in our country than any other group of people. Although I find it hard to do so, I would summarize Walt in four categories.
First, Walt is a warm and humble man. Everyone who works with Walt is impressed by both his modesty and personal kindness. He has a friendly comment for everyone and cares about the people he meets. And despite his many accomplishments, which I note below, he is also the last person to seek the limelight or highlight his own work. He always deflects attention to his team and ascribes success to the group.
Second, in contrast to his humble nature, Walt is nonetheless a man of almost frightening knowledge and experience. His knowledge of the theory and practice of wastewater treatment is encyclopedic. When called upon to explain a process or technology, Walt deploys simple language to describe complicated ideas – and leaves the audience (which has often been me) feeling confident in a direction or decision. Walt never highlights his knowledge and wisdom to dominate or win a conversation, but instead teaches and persuades.
Third, Walt is a wonderful manager – perhaps based on the first two points –with warmth of character married to depth of knowledge. As a practical matter, Walt has recruited and retained perhaps the finest senior team for any treatment facility in the world and helps them work truly as a team, something that is often said and rarely achieved. Our succession plan for Walt, as hard as he is to replace, was speedy and efficient – with a cascade of promotions from within his own program. He not only made DC Water stronger by his presence, but made sure of its continued strength on his departure.
Fourth, I believe that Walt is one of the handful of most successful environmentalists in the country. And by environmentalist – I mean a person who has devoted their life to making the environment better for all living organisms. Walt has orchestrated the development and operation of the largest discharger to the largest freshwater estuary in North America with the highest level of scrutiny from an agency headquartered just miles away from the facility – and helped turn it into a world class service that exceeds every relevant performance standard.
Walt Bailey has engendered respect and admiration from employees and colleagues from an entry-level operator to the Board. He has won almost every award that it is possible to get in our industry and is literally a legend to many in the field. And perhaps most remarkable, Walt would be the last person to highlight any of these accomplishments, preferring to hold up to the light the accomplishments of his colleagues. I have told Walt that there may be no person ever that has done more to protect the water of the Potomac, Rock Creek, Anacostia and Chesapeake Bay, and that he has done so by working so well not as a single person, but always at the side of others. I have been proud and blessed, and will always be so, to have been one of them.