ConnectWith: SYEMC's Chris Tolbert and Kathy Sawyers
Promoting a culture of safety and service
A closer look at two ambassadors for the cooperative difference.
At the young age of 11, Chris Tolbert became interested in electric line work. His father and uncle were working in the test lab at Pike Electric in Mount Airy and sparked his interest. In May 2007, Chris began his career in the industry and later joined Surry-Yadkin EMC in 2014.
Braving stormy weather and other challenging conditions, Chris and other co-op linemen carry a heavy toolbelt while climbing 40 or more feet up a utility pole where high-voltage power lines surround them. Electric utility linemen are tasked with one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S.
Linemen face a number of challenges and obstacles with each job. “One of our biggest challenges is figuring out the most efficient and safest way to change out certain poles,” says Chris. Safety is a top priority for SYEMC linemen, but not just their own. Chris and his team are equally concerned with public safety.
One of a lineman’s biggest enemies is complacency. This comes with experience on the job. Chris is careful to never get too comfortable with his skill level or his surroundings. He respects the dangers associated with his job and looks out for his fellow linemen as well.
One reminder that stays with Chris, and other linemen, is who’s waiting at home for him. “I have a family that wants me home every day and a son who wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps,” says Chris. We often describe the life of a lineman and the difficulties of the job, but may not always consider how challenging life is for spouses and families of linemen.
Chris is humbled by the way his son idolizes him. “The way he looks up to me and wants to do what I do one day really makes my day,” says Chris.
Away from the co-op, Chris stays active in his community. You may have had the opportunity to hear him sing on a Sunday morning in his church choir.
As we celebrate National Lineman Appreciation Day on April 9, rest assured that you have caring and professional people like Chris Tolbert maintaining the SYEMC electric distribution system.
Her co-op family describes her as a sincere and compassionate person who genuinely cares about others. Kathy Sawyers began serving SYEMC members more than 13 years ago as a dispatcher. Her service continued in roles at the switchboard, drive-thru and billing department.
In her current role as member services representative, Kathy leads a team of cashiers and works with members by phone and in person to provide the best possible member experience.
“Showing members compassion is critical to them leaving more satisfied than when they arrived,” says Kathy. “Our team of MSRs looks at each member’s unique situation when searching for a solution.”
As someone who values her time with family, Kathy appreciates the strong similarities found during the day among coworkers.
“My co-op is a lot like my family,” she says. “I can always count on both to be there for me. We always come together and help each other out, no matter the situation.”
As one might expect, a person in Kathy’s role is often approached in public to discuss topics like managing energy use, power bills, choices of rates or a recent power outage. She looks forward to these conversations and sees them as opportunities to contribute to overall member satisfaction.
If you do catch her outside of work one evening or on a weekend, Kathy is likely with her grandkids, riding her bicycle on a river trail, or playing drums and singing in her church band. One thing you can count on is being greeted with a warm smile.
Join us in recognizing Kathy Sawyers and all of our office staff on Administrative Professionals Day on April 25.