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Seattle City (spot)Light: John Lee, Electrician Constructor Working Crew Chief – Hydro Operator

Hometown: I grew up in the Green Lake and Greenwood area of Seattle.
​​​​Alma Mater: U.S. Navy
Discipline/Trade of study: Nuclear Power Program, Electrician’s Mate

The Basics
Years of service: Seven years
Division: Cedar Falls and Tolt Generation
Role: I supervise the Cedar Falls and South Fork Tolt crew in operations and maintenance of the generation, distribution, and transmission equipment and facilities, covering the oldest and newest hydroelectric plants in the utility. The role includes planning and assigning work; assisting as necessary to ensure availability of equipment; and overseeing and performing training of operation, maintenance, and applicable safety standards. Being in a remote forested area of the Cascade foothills, it’s not uncommon to respond to weather-related outage events, so I always bring a snow shovel!

Tell us about your family: My lovely wife, Melissa, and I met while working at a Seattle biotech company, Immunex. She was a bench scientist in R&D, and I worked in manufacturing of a cancer drug. A friend set us up on a blind date at a company event, and things took off from there. She is now lending her talents to World Vision, an international Christian humanitarian organization. Our daughter and son live in the area, are both married to lovely spouses, and have blessed us with wonderful grandchildren, with the fourth due in July. Nana and Papa are joyful when the grandkids come to visit and thankful for calm and quiet when they go home.

Just for Fun:

What is the most rewarding part of your work at the utility? Getting to work is quite gratifying (and who can say that?). My commute often includes wildlife sightings of deer, elk, and an occasional bear, which are plentiful around the Cedar Falls watershed. It is a good way to start the day, but you must remain alert and share the road with the residents.

Other rewards include working with good and knowledgeable people, doing work that interests me, operating and maintaining century-old equipment, and being surrounded by spectacular PNW beauty. In addition to all that, there is significant history, especially at Cedar Falls. In the early 1900s, at the time when electricity was novel and building a dam was new, those pioneers built an enduring infrastructure, much of which we still have today.

Their struggle reminds me of a quote from a pioneer in his own field. “What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense — none of which can be taught in a classroom… Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.”

– Admiral Hyman Rickover

When you were younger, what was your dream job? Like other Northwest kids, I wanted to be a commercial fisherman. And I was, starting at age 12, with my grandfather who by then had over 60 years in, mostly salmon and king crab. The first of many lessons was that my grandfather wasn’t dear old Papa when the lines were cast off at homeport; he was the captain and things were to be a certain way. The “Captain” was also the accountant, and I found out you don’t get paid until all the expenses were subtracted from the gross proceeds. After my first season, the paid apprentices received maybe $100, along with a copy of the ledger. Like many others, we had a rough time back in the early ‘80s. People were selling their commercial licenses and if they could, their boats. Life lesson learned, and thankful I didn’t take the boom-bust career path. But still wish I was fishing.

What would we most likely find you doing on the weekend? Spending time with the family, watching grandsons play basketball and soccer, gardening, working in the greenhouse, etc. And if the chores are done, maybe I’ll spend some time prepping the boat for an offshore fishing trip to Westport or Neah Bay. Last January, we went to see the monster truck show, which the grandsons enjoyed. Earplugs are a must… it was quite loud. Interestingly, about half the drivers were women, though I shouldn’t be too surprised. My mom had a ’69 Camaro (think of the movie “Bullitt” but on the streets of Seattle). At the age of 92, Mom doesn’t drive any longer (thank goodness) and still lives on her own with some help. It is that role-reversal time of life for me, but I feel blessed to still have her, even though her stubborn Norwegian makes an appearance on occasion.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be and why? I would like to play guitar and sing. I have tried both with varying degrees of dedication and with absolutely no success! It is not realistic if you can’t carry a tune or have no sense of rhythm. But I believe music is a basic human element, and I like sharing that with others. I do appreciate those everyday individuals who enrich our lives by sharing their talents, especially around a good campfire.

What advice do you have for those who are new to City Light? Check-in with yourself. Understandably, we really don’t know what the job is until we are in the role. If you find what you are doing interests you, learn all you can. If it doesn’t, learn all you can anyway. We may find our passions lie elsewhere, and it may be time to pursue them eventually. But this is not time lost, because you have gained knowledge, at least about yourself.