By Will Jones, senior public relations specialist, Henrico County, Virginia
Elvin R. Cosby started working for Henrico County, Virginia, in 1946, when he carried water to sun-battered road crews. World War II had ended seven months earlier, and the county’s department of public works was in the process of hard-surfacing the county’s gravel and dirt roads.
Cosby toiled long hours under sometimes hostile conditions. Residents occasionally unleashed their dogs when the unfamiliar 18-year-old approached their homes in hopes of drawing water from their wells.
Now 90, Cosby received a far warmer reception April 23, 2018, when Henrico celebrated the 72nd anniversary of his employment. Several hundred coworkers, family members, dignitaries, and other well-wishers gathered at the Henrico County Government Center to salute his humble service and tireless work ethic.
“He has watched leaders come and go. He has seen equipment transform from mule teams to high-tech machines. He has faced adversity and personal tragedy, but he has triumphed,” County Manager John Vithoulkas told the crowd. “That 18-year-old novice is now a steady force, mentoring new employees from a bountiful spring of experience. He has faithfully loved his God, his family, his friends, and those he serves each and every day.”
The ceremony culminated with the unveiling of a street sign for Elvin Cosby Way on the government center’s campus. Cosby smiled and applauded the gesture as his wife of 66 years, Lottie, and other family members watched nearby. “I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked,” he later told radio station WCVE FM. “I just love, just enjoy life. I never thought that would happen to a guy like me, you know.”
Cosby’s tenure is 24 years longer than Henrico’s second longest-serving employee. It ranks a few years short of the 80 years of service to a single employer as recognized by Guinness World Records, Vithoulkas said.
As a maintenance supervisor for the public works department, Cosby oversees a staff of 42 and routinely checks conditions and clears debris from the county’s roads. Over the decades, he also has worked for the department as a truck driver, equipment operator, and labor foreman. He has served under all nine of Henrico’s directors of public works and six of its eight county managers.
In May 2018, Cosby received the Judith M. Mueller Local Government Service Award from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Public Works Association. The award recognizes honorable and efficient service to a single locality for 20 or more continuous years. In 2015, Henrico established the Elvin R. Cosby Award to recognize long-tenured employees for their outstanding service and contributions.
Cosby insists he has no plan to retire. In an interview with television station WTVR, he dismissed the idea of retiring to relax. “They say you sit on the porch, [but] you don’t sit on the porch long,” he said with a chuckle.
How Five Communities Appreciate Their Employees. This blog post from 2018 provides examples of how local governments appreciate employees through award programs and other employee recognition programs.
Giving Thanks: 5 Inspiring Ways to Show Gratitude and Appreciation to Staff. In a 2017 blog post, the focus was on how to show gratitude and appreciation to staff with emphasis on the small things that can be done to show thankfulness and appreciation.
Leading Practices in Public Works Management. This 2016 e-book from ICMA and the American Public Works Association (APWA) brings together some of the best content that ICMA and APWA have to offer on public works management.