Tahlequah Daily Press

October 21, 2013

Hard hat a memorial to TPWA super

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Some people know the story behind it, but many do not.

If driving westbound on West Choctaw Street, a glance toward the left side of the street will reveal a Tahlequah Public Works Authority hard hat hanging from a 50-foot utility pole at S. Morris Avenue.

“A lot of people ask about it,” said Gary Stevens, superintendent of the TPWA’s electric division. “They joke about whether we’ve found the rest of the person.”

The hard hat, secured to the pole with a spike, honors former electric superintendent Leon Blair, who died of cancer several years ago.

TPWA staff wanted a workplace memorial which was simple and poignant, and selected a pole within easy view of the TPWA facility between Choctaw and West Keetoowah Street at South Lee Avenue.

“Leon is remembered as just an all-around good guy,” Stevens said. “I was on call with him for about four years, and he was excellent to work with. He was a great friend. I still carry his uniform name tag in my wallet.”

Stevens said his favorite story concerning Blair was his foray into the film biz.

“He didn’t tell us for the longest time,” Stevens said.

“He played one of the raccoon hunters in the original ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ movie. We couldn’t believe it, but you watch the film and there he is. I understand they used a lot of people from this area as extras, so I guess it make sense.”

Blair was also known for his sense of humor, Stevens said.

“He always told people he could drop his hat and beat it to the ground,” Stevens said. “He would try to bet people $20, but no one would take him up on it because they didn’t want to lose their money.”

All knew Blair was exaggerating, but Stevens said Blair was a supremely competent utility pole climber.

“We didn’t have bucket trucks back then,” Stevens said. “You climbed the poles using spikes. Leon could climb up and down poles like a squirrel.”

While the hard hat is meant to memorialize Blair among his TPWA colleagues, Stevens said it was also installed as a gesture to his family.

“We always thought of him as more of a friend than a boss,” Stevens said.

“He never acted like a boss. I personally thought of him as a father figure, and I always told him he was my dad at work.”