An Unlikely Mentor

At William “Bill” Alfier’s memorial service today, memories flowed freely and were peppered with laughter, salted with tears. Bill was a colorful guy for whom appearances meant nothing, but whose family and friends meant everything to him. He lived exactly as he pleased and gave permission for others to do the same, and whether or not he intentionally chose to mentor three young men, including my husband, the return on Bill’s investment of time and attention touches my own life every single day.

People like Bill Alfier are a rare breed, yet today more than ever we need these unlikely mentors to grow the next generation of engineers, leaders, teachers, world-changers; people who see potential in everyone and are willing to pour into a few lives the best of what they’ve learned. These exchanges might take place at the conference table or over a working lunch, but it’s all the better when they happen during the course of a real and imperfect life; for my husband, this included countless rides in cigar-smoke infused vehicles and many hours spent seated on bar stools, listening to the shaping-stories of a man who held nothing back.

It was a beautiful thing to hear my husband, Dallas Hammit, speak the following words in honor of his mentor, Bill Alfier. We share them with you now in hopes that you, too, will consider the power your life still has when you make the choice to give it away.

If you knew Bill, you know he had strong opinions on many subjects: politics, the Marine Corps, and building roads, but what stayed with me were his thoughts on people. Bill often said “God did not make any junk.” Bill looked for the best in people and was constantly watching for ways to assist people in their personal and professional development. This help came in a number of forms:
        Pushing you to start or complete college,
        Providing a work schedule that would allow for continuing education,
        Providing coaching to advance one’s career, or
        Taking a backseat to allow a young engineer to learn and grow.

Bill lived servant leadership. It was not a fad or the trending thing to do, it was a belief.  “A leader must put their employees first and allow them to grow.”

Bill liked to tell stories, and I heard most of them in the car as we drove through the District. Many times it would start with Bill calling loudly down the hall, “I’ve got roads to build!” and we would be off. There were lots of stories. Stories of the days when he worked in the carnival. Stories of going to Montana to mine copper. Stories of stripping down to his underwear at the bar, to win a bet with Mr Higgins. Stories of changing the way things were done at ADOT. One of those lasting changes was the Maintenance Servant Leadership Team. Bill – and others – believed the people closest to the work should have a larger say in what goes on and how we do things in maintenance. They formed a team of engineers and superintendents that met regularly and set policy for the way their department would do business, from dividing the budget to advocating for worker’s pay. This group is still active today.

And if there ever was a question about whether Bill had a lasting influence at ADOT, just look at the current leadership: a District Engineer, State Engineer and Chief of Operations all grew and developed under Bill’s leadership.

Bill Alfier will be missed.

William “Bill” Peter Alfier, July 22, 1944 – January 22, 2018

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