George “Shannon” Darby had the chance to be a hero on his day off, and he seized it.
With his quick action, he saved science. He also saved taxpayer money.
Like he does on many weekends, he checked in one Saturday last year at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, where he works for UF/IFAS as a maintenance specialist. Even when he’s not being paid to do so, he just likes to make sure it’s OK.
It wasn’t. The place was taking on water. It was in the midst of a reroofing, and the new roof had not been secured. A rain storm had exposed portions of the building and water was leaking in. It threatened the $750,000 project.
So he did what heroes do -- he ran into a drowning building. He made a call to summon a work crew to get tarps on the building to stop the massive leaking. Then he did what he could to hold off the damage until that crew arrived, hustling from room to room with buckets to catch leaking water and draping plastic sheets over lab equipment and computers.
By the end of the day, he had people bringing in fans and dryers to dry out the walls and carpets and electricians repairing the wiring.
Darby exemplifies how IFAS employees of all job titles are behind our world-class teaching, research and Extension.
We at IFAS HQ in Gainesville pride ourselves on the support we offer to centers and to employees from Homestead to Jay. But we rely on the resourcefulness of the likes of Shannon Darby when we’re two and a half hours away and he has a right-now problem.
Darby’s dedication is also an example of how a maintenance specialist is essential to research. Water damage could have set back important research for months if more extensive repairs had been required. Our scientists – and by extension, the Panhandle’s farmers and the public – could have lost a great deal of painstakingly assembled data if key computers had been waterlogged.
North Florida REC researchers have done groundbreaking work on defending Florida roses against a virus that has decimated the industry in others states. They’re breeding mustard plants that can be turned into jet fuel. Their advances on forages save cattlemen untold dollars. They can’t do any of this without functioning labs and offices.
Darby was recognized on April 14 by UF President Kent Fuchs for his actions on that Saturday in Quincy. UF has approximately 28,000 employees statewide, and Darby was named one of 16 winners of the university’s Superior Accomplishment Awards – basically UF’s employees of the year.
IFAS had several other winners among the 16, most of whom had stories of going far beyond their job duties.
Shannon Darby demonstrated the IFAS public service ethic. He protected public assets and a taxpayer-funded renovation on a day when he wasn’t being paid to work.
Those assets included science. That can be just as hard to build as anything made of brick and mortar, and just as precious to protect.