After only a few months on the job, Joseph Dowell could still qualify as a new guy, the rookie in Public Works, but Dowell demonstrated a loyalty and dedication of an employee with decades of service.
The effects of Hurricane Harvey claimed at least 70 lives in the Houston area. Among them was Dowell, a temporary Public Works and Engineering employee, who died in floodwaters on his way to work on August 27.
Dowell was hired on a temporary basis by PWE after he graduated from the Houston Health Department’s Community Re-Entry Network program in May 2017. He worked in the facilities maintenance crew. Friends, family and colleagues recalled Dowell’s pride and enthusiasm for starting a new job after overcoming a lifetime of personal obstacles and losses including cycles of abuse, addiction and incarceration. Read this Houston Chronicle article for more about Dowell’s life.
Braxton Coles, a maintenance manager in the PWE storm sewer maintenance section, said Dowell was friendly and outgoing and was always eager to take on additional responsibilities.
“He was the one that stood out among the others,” Coles said of Dowell. “He would ask to learn new things, to perform new tasks and he always had an upbeat attitude so I could not help but notice. He touched each one of us he met and hopefully made us better for it. He was a living testament that change is possible and your past does not define who you are, it is your present and the actions you take now.”
During the storm, Dowell called his supervisor to report dangerous road conditions just a few miles from his work site. Dowell was advised to pull over until a PWE vehicle could safely pick him up, but Dowell insisted he was close enough to walk the rest of the way. He was not heard from again.
“Joseph Dowell was a true testament of resiliency, having dealt with many trials and tribulations throughout his life including losing his son, Jamal, and wife, Yolanda,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “His commitment to not allowing those trials dictate his life gave light to a promising future. He served as an employee of the City of Houston’s Public Works Department, where many knew him as a hard-working and positive person.”
“Our municipal employees have also been on the front lines,” Turner said. “They have been helping to rescue individuals, ensuring that our drinking water remained safe, that your trash is picked up and that our city buildings would be safe enough for all of us to return to work.”
A celebration of life was held for Dowell on Saturday, Sept. 16 at East Haven Funeral Home.