Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: ‘DuWright’ and friends do right by Modesto woman

People often talk about “paying it forward,” the gist being that if you do something nice for someone, that someday someone will do something nice for you. Or something like that...

Which is nice if it actually works out that way. There’s also something to be said for those who do something nice for someone else because its simply the right thing to do and expect nothing in return. Or something like that...

Duane Wright is a two-year employee of Martin Plumbing, a family-owned business in Modesto. Last week, the company received a call for service from a woman who lives in central Modesto. For a variety of very personal reasons – shyness alone wouldn’t have cut it – she asked not to be identified or photographed. OK. This really isn’t about her anyway. It’s about Wright and his co-workers.

About three weeks ago, PG&E inspected her home, found gas leaks throughout the pipeline and red-tagged the place. That means they shut off the gas supply until the homeowner – a retired divorcee on a fixed income – repaired the system. It left her with no heat, no hot water, no gas for cooking. After shivering morning and night in the cold, concrete-block home built in the early 1940s, she hoped it would be a simple, minor fix that wouldn’t equal the annual budget of, say, Albania. That’s because the final “no” in this string was “no money,” or at least not enough to fund a major repair job, and with the weather expected to drop into the low 30s on Thanksgiving.

Rose Vasquez in the Martin Plumbing office dispatched Wright to the home to check it out last Thursday. The worst-case scenario played out. Most of the pipes were on the ground and under the house. All of the gas lines needed replacing – a job normally costing anywhere from $2,800 to $3,400, company owner Rich Martin estimated.

“They rotted,” Wright said. “It was sad to see her caught like that – no heat, no hot water, no money. Once I came out here, I couldn’t leave her like that.”

Wright’s name tag reads “DuWright,” combining the first two letters of his first name with all of his last, but more importantly speaks to his actions. Because when he returned to the office, detailed the repairs needed and told his boss the homeowner couldn’t afford them, Wright said he planned to do the job for free. Free, as in gratis, as in on his own time. He asked if anyone else wanted to join him.

“He came back and said he wanted to do it,” Martin said. “He didn’t ask. He just said he was doing it. Word got around, and he got five volunteers willing to do it, too, just like that.”

Other plumbers on staff offered to help as well, but other jobs – paying jobs – beckoned. Wright returned to the home Friday to determine the amount of pipe and other materials they’d need.

“They even brought me some food,” the homeowner said Monday, stunned by their generosity.

Martin gave Wright the five others – among them his younger brother, Josh – Monday morning to complete the work. Wright obtained the building permit from the city – the only part of this the homeowner paid for – and they arrived at the home shortly before 10 a.m. to begin working.

The company donated the materials. The crew installed the piping, rerouting it through the rafters so that the new ones wouldn’t be in contact with soils or moisture that would cause them to fail again.

By 1 p.m., they’d finished the job, testing for leaks (none) and checking the gas pressure (perfect).

“With five guys, we really killed it,” Wright said. She bought them pizza as they began to clean up and pack up while hoping to get a city building inspector out to sign off.

“I’m going to take an hourlong bath,” she said.

Having the gas back on means the water heater, indeed, is back on, the heat is back on and the stove is back on. That, in turn, means her Thanksgiving holiday is back on with some kin coming for the day.

Wright and the others never considered their actions as they did as a pay-it-forward. Need is need, and now is now.

DuWright and his friends know they did right, and that is thanks enough.