P.W. Paws a hit in Norfolk

Alice Kelly
Assistant Director of Public Works
City of Norfolk, Virginia

The City of Norfolk wanted to do something special during National Public Works Week. This year, employees of Norfolk's Department of Public Works did an outstanding job in responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel which blew into town September 18, 2003. Department employees were responsible for managing the cleanup of more than one million cubic yards of debris, restoring thousands of street signs, and repairing more than a thousand sidewalks. Also this year, the city hosted the regional VA-DC-MD APWA conference. And Norfolk's nomination of Public Works Director John Keifer as a Top Ten recipient was also something we wanted to celebrate.

P.W. Paws supervises the stormwater crew. From left are Paws, Lindon Hoskins, Samuel Holland, and Wallace Fisher.

So the Department of Public Works ordered the costume mascot P.W. Paws to be delivered the week of the conference so we could use it to have fun and as a thank-you respite. Before the costume came, one of the division heads, Mike Schaefer, graciously volunteered to wear the costume to visit employees on job sites throughout the city.

However, little did we know before the costume arrived that it was over nine feet tall and made of heavy plastic blown up by a self-contained air pump. Unfortunately during that week in May, the City of Norfolk experienced record high temperatures. So the brave wearer of the costume would be walking around in 90-degree temperatures and nearly 100% humidity! Our plans for driving around and visiting employees had to be limited.

Once P.W. Paws was delivered to our City Hall building, Mike put the costume on and took pictures with the folks on the 8th floor. Then he bent down and rode the elevator to the 7th and 2nd floors to surprise more of the public works staff. Some visitors to City Hall would not get in the elevator with the animal.

We then took P.W. Paws to visit our five field division offices: Towing, Stormwater, Streets and Bridges, Traffic Operations, and Waste Management. At Waste Management the ceiling was very low and, as Paws entered the customer service area, Lorraine Boone, a customer service representative, screamed in fright while talking to a customer.

P.W. Paws visits the Waste Management muster room.

Then P.W. Paws went out to the field to visit a crew working on a storm drain near one of Norfolk's high schools, which was just letting out for the afternoon. Needless to say, many of the students began to gather around the public works mascot wanting to have their pictures taken. P.W. Paws jokingly punched a student, earning the interest of one of our local police officers who came over to see what was going on. The police officer was comforted when Paws gave him some candy and gum.

We visited many field sites where we parked around the corner to watch the employees' reaction of seeing a huge tiger come visit them bringing gum and candy. It was great! Driving with Paws was a challenge. We ended up unzipping the back and placing the head on Mike's lap. We also had the air conditioning on full blast.

Later that week at the APWA conference opening ceremony, P.W. Paws was part of the ceremonies to present the chapter awards and rodeo winners' trophies.

Alice Kelly can be reached at (757) 664-4660 or at alice.kelly@norfolk.gov. P.W. Paws can be reached at (800) 848-APWA, ext. 3507.