‘Mama’ knows best
Former lineworker Vickie Kilmer reminisces over 30 years at PEC
Vickie Kilmer gained enormous respect from her coworkers as one of the first female PEC lineworkers during her 30-plus years at PEC, earning herself the nickname, “Mama.”
“Mama was respected by all the young linemen because she set the standard on what it takes to be a dedicated ground hand,” said Canyon Lake Regional Operations Supervisor Alex Cortez, who worked with Kilmer during his early years at PEC. “She took the time to show all the new employees what their responsibilities were and made sure they were done right. She wasn’t afraid to call us out when we didn’t meet her expectations.”
Kilmer’s time here didn’t begin in the field, but rather as a member relations agent in 1982. She was hired mainly because she was bilingual and could speak Spanish.
“I worked in that role for about two-and-a-half years,” she said, “but I had three kids and one who wanted to go to college. I saw that I could increase my salary by working in the field, so I applied.”
The manager was hesitant to change her role at the time, and he waited three months to make the decision.
“He really didn’t want me to go out,” she said. “This was before computers. I was a pretty fast typist, so they wanted to continue doing that, but being locked up in the office wasn’t really my cup of tea.”
Once the manager saw how badly the crew foremen wanted her in the field, he felt it would be the right choice.
“None of the guys ever had a problem with me being a woman,” she said. “We had to work out in the country a lot and weren’t able to take frequent stops in convenient stores, so I had to learn to get dirty and be comfortable with it.”
Over time, she impressed the crews with how much she could take on, moving tons of heavy equipment through treacherous conditions on several occasions. She remembers one time she had to haul loads of equipment to a remote area in Dripping Springs so workers could restore power.
“I remember climbing a mountain and having to get that material up,” she said. “One worker from Johnson City who had never seen me said, ‘I couldn’t believe you were out in overalls with all of this equipment on you, and you were just climbing it up.’”
She recalls another time on River Road in Canyon Lake when the power went out at night. It would be another long hike to haul equipment and it was dark, which made the terrain nearly impossible to see. But again, “Mama” pushed forward.
“The crew workers said I was just like a goat getting it all up there, and I thought, ‘well, what was I supposed to do?,’” she said.
Through the years as a crew worker and as a member relations agent, she was able to learn various aspects of PEC’s operations and build good relationships with the members she worked with.
“I still have people call me when they have issues with their power,” she said. “And I’ll still try to reach out to someone to get information to them about what’s going on.”
Her wealth of knowledge, no-excuse attitude, and ability to work with all the crews is what made her such a commendable employee.
“She basically earned the name, ‘Mama,’ by watching over all the guys,” said Canyon Lake Regional Operations Manager David Aguilar, who worked with Kilmer for over 15 years. “She made sure everyone had their tools in the morning and would get water on all the trucks. She also provided lunch and snacks to the younger field employees that lived check to check. She had a big heart.”
Aguilar noted that due to her work ethic, most crew workers would forget she wasn’t just another one of the guys.
“One of the best memories I have of her was when she was showing me the ropes when I first started here,” he said. “I was actually a little intimidated by her because she looked like she could be mean. I soon found out she was kind and just wanted to help everyone.”
Cortez commented on her dependability, saying she was always ready to work when a major storm hit.
“She was one of the first at the office with a truck stocked and ready to roll,” he said.
For Kilmer, working with the crews was easy because they were like family to her.
“The camaraderie we had was always there, whether you were working with them or watching them in softball games and cheering them on,” she said. “We knew everybody we worked with, we knew their families, and we knew their kids.”
Because of this, she was never going to let anything happen to them on her watch.
“The best part of the day was that everybody went home,” she said. “That was the whole goal, whether it was an eight-hour shift or working call out. That was the promise you made to yourself and their families.”
To other men and women looking to get into linework, her advice was to keep an open mind, be humble, and don’t try to change anybody. Most importantly, she said the job must be a passion.
“When you can go to work and not think of it as a job, then you know you’re in the right spot,” she said. That’s how I felt the whole time I was there.”