In Memory of Walter R. Stephenson, Sr.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Posted by: Michael Starling
Walter R. Stephenson was born on January 5, 1929, in Norfolk, Virginia. Walter was licensed as a Land Surveyor in March, 1963 (#866) and had been a member of the Virginia Association of Surveyors since the mid 1960’s, serving on the Education Committee for a while. Walter remembered when the VAS was still a young organization. “I can remember going to a VAS meeting, if we had ten people there, we thought we had plenty, because there wasn’t ten surveyors in this area. When we had ten people, we had a heck of a meeting”. “I used to really enjoy going to the convention. I can’t begin to tell you how nice they were”.
Growing up in Norfolk, Walter enjoyed sailing and playing sports in his free time. Walter attended Maury High School, where he excelled in football and basketball. Walter especially liked math, chemistry and physics, noting that his teachers pointed him the right direction. Walter took classes at Hampden-Sydney before graduating from Old Dominion University in 1950, majoring in Architectural Drafting. Walter married his high school sweetheart, Janie, in 1948. Their union has produced five children; Walter, Jr. (Steve), Katherine, Linda, Martha & Sherri, nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
Walter began his surveying career with Frank D. Tarrell and Associates. Frank Tarrell was looking for some line cutters and Walter applied. Walter recalled that there were five men that Frank dropped off to cut lines 2,000 feet long. When they finished one, they moved over 100 feet and cut another. “He paid us $6 a day and he told us how long the day was.” Frank returned at the end of the day to take them back to the office. “There were five of us on Monday, there were three of us on Wednesday and on Friday, I was the only one that showed up”. On Friday evening, Walter was standing by the side of the road when Frank came to pick him up. Frank asked him “What are you doing standing out here?” Walter replied, “I’m through. I cut all of the lines, so I’m out here waiting for you to give me something else to do.” Frank told him “Be at my office tomorrow at seven.” The next day, Walter went out with a survey crew, running cross sections on the lines he had cut that week.
Walter worked for Frank Tarrell for over a decade before going into a partnership with Lee Rood, forming Rood & Stephenson, while at the same time working for the City of Norfolk. Due a bad economy, they parted ways in 1966 and Walter went to work for Jack Hill at MMM Design Group. Walter worked at MMM for 25 years before retiring. Walter returned to surveying in 1999, this time working with his son, Steve, running a branch office of Miller-Stephenson & Associates in Eastville, Virginia, a position he held until 2005.
Walter had seen many changes since he began surveying. Without a doubt, the biggest change had been improvements in technology. “All of the good stuff that y’all have got now wasn’t available back then. The first time I saw an EDM, I said, man, it can’t get any better than this, but it did”. The field crews that Walter worked on worked under very different conditions than what crews are working under now. Walter remembers working out of a car, having all of the equipment in the trunk. The field crew had to make its own hubs and stakes. “If you wanted to eat lunch, or if you wanted something to drink during the day, you had to bring it with you. There was no 7-11 on every corner”. ”The work that we did, if we didn’t get it in the field book, it didn’t get back to the office. We didn’t have any data collectors”.
Walter had enjoyed traveling the world with Janie. He had visited five continents and has traveled as far as Australia and New Zealand. He had hoped that he was able to pass some of his knowledge on to others. “A lot of people helped me get where I was, and I always felt like I should do the same for everybody else. I always tried to do a good job, and that hopefully, I’ve been a good person.”
Looking back on his surveying career, Walter said “I never got tired of doing that. I never got tired of it, even at the end. I still enjoy what we did.”