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Posted on June 29, 2023 at 9:36 AM by Ken Kocher
Larry Stephens, Jr., is an Atlanta baby and a quiet Madison institution. Born at Crawford Long Hospital, Stephens found himself as the night stock manager at Madison’s Piggly Wiggly in 1990 and at a crossroads. He had arrived at “The Pig” after leaving a day job at a hardware store and a night shift job at a convenience store. Larry was a young man trying to support a family.
A job at Madison’s water plant became available and Stephens, who was about to have a larger family, gave the opportunity a hard look. “Charles Young (former Madison city manager) talked a good game.” Young’s pitch: learn a valuable skill, work hard, and provide an important service to your community. Stephens took the job and working at the plant for four years before moving his family to south Georgia to be closer to his wife, Audra’s, family. He moved back to Madison in 1998 and resumed a career with both the city and the water department.
Larry has since been elevated to Chief Operator of the Madison Water System, controlling the quality and flow of approximately 2.5 million gallons of safe drinking water every day. He is surrounded by computer monitors that give him real-time data on the city’s water system. Stephens takes ownership of the system that provides an entire city with fresh, clean, clear drinking water. City Manager John Klimm relates that, “Larry is an exemplary employee. We are blessed to have such a dedicated and knowledgeable employee. He cares deeply about the citizens we serve, and he is a role model for every city employee.”
Stephens and the seven employees with whom he works at Madison’s two water plants, “make sure we do things the right way.” The water that flows to the city’s plants from Hard Labor Creek and Lake Oconee is tested constantly for contaminants and harmful agents. “We do a large amount of testing, and we have monitors that take readings every 15 seconds,” he says. Workers at the plants complete 40 to 50 additional tests on the water quality every shift. Stephens also monitors both the levels and water quality of the five water towers the city maintains on College Drive, Atlanta Highway, Lions Club Road, Woodkraft Road, and in the Flat Rock Community.
Larry says the water department team “takes care of each other.” “I’ve never met anybody here I can’t get along with.” The water department supervisor says he expects the best of his workers and tries to set an example. “We talk like people. That’s how my guys and I talk. There’s no reason to get loud.”
Since Stephens, a certified Class One Drinking Water License holder with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, introduced new testing policies and employment schedules in 2012, the system has not failed an EPD inspection. On average, he says, the water department receives two complaints a year from customers. When a complaint comes in, he travels to the customer with his test kit and works with them to get a resolution. The city has approximately 2,600 water taps.
Stephens says getting the city job was “luck” and it has given him an opportunity to enjoy serving the community and providing for Audra and the couple’s three children. It also, he says, has given him insight. In November 2014, Stephens suffered a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On December 8 the same year, his daughter Dawn’s birthday, he underwent successful surgery to have the tumor removed. Prior to the surgery he made a promise to Dawn that when it was over, that day, he would sing Happy Birthday to the then 25-year-old. Stephens says he came out from under the fog of anesthesia at Athen’s St. Mary’s Hospital alive and with a good prognosis. So, he says, he sang as best he could to Dawn. “It was kind of blurry,” the affable Stephens says. “But I sang.”