Katrina evacuee earns Victoria County employee of year honors
March 7, 2011 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated March 8, 2011 at 9:09 p.m.
David Waller, the 2010 Victoria County Employee of the Year, didn't know where Victoria was five years ago.
Leaving behind family, friends and possessions, Waller and his wife, Anita, fled New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005.
Normally an eight-hour drive, the trek from New Orleans to Victoria in driving rain and through evacuating traffic took 18 hours.
"All the motels between New Orleans and Houston were filled, ... so we kept going," Waller said. "I didn't know where Victoria was. I thought Victoria was a suburb of Houston, but was told we had two more hours to drive."
With an ill wife, nowhere to stay and heavy rain and heavier traffic continuing to be problems, Waller pushed onward.
"I prayed most of the way," he admitted. "If there's any one thing that I can tell you got me through this is, my faith in God."
HELP IN VICTORIA
Waller made it to Victoria, settling in initially at the Comfort Inn on the Houston Highway.
"We came to Victoria with pretty much nothing but what we could fit in the car," he said. "It was very difficult."
Waller, who worked at a large law firm in New Orleans for 21 years, lost his home and his job.
"It was very devastating," he said. "I was also separated from my family because we lost contact with each other. I didn't know where my parents were at that time."
"What I found in Victoria was a lot of help," Waller said. "And a lot of very understanding people."
He received assistance with his wife's prescriptions from the Red Cross, and he turned to the Texas Workforce Commission for help finding work.
Under an emergency grant program designed specifically to assist Katrina evacuees, he went to work for the Victoria County District Clerk's Office.
When the grant expired, District Clerk Cathy Stuart asked the commissioners court to add Waller as a permanent employee.
"I didn't want to lose him," said Stuart. "He is a very, very hard worker. He's very knowledgeable. He's very friendly and helpful with the customers that come in here, and all the attorneys love him."
The deputy clerk said his co-workers made the transition easy.
"I've been well received here," Waller said. "They believe if a person works hard, they will help you. They are fair and equitable."
Waller, 51, said Victoria is his home "for now."
He has gone back to New Orleans to visit the Lower Ninth Ward where he lived.
The area was devastated by the hurricane and has not been completely rehabilitated, a condition that saddens Waller.
"There were a lot of good, working-class people there who owned their own homes and tried to make a living for their families who caught the brunt of the devastation. The neighborhood is not returning back. A lot has changed," Waller said. "If ever another disaster like this happens, hopefully local, state and federal governments have learned a lesson."
Waller, who attends Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Victoria, knows that one day he may have to return to Louisiana.
After Hurricane Katrina his parents settled in Baton Rouge, but his father is 91 and his mother is 83.
"I'll be here until they need me there," he said.
The soft-spoken Waller was humble about the county Employee of the Year honor.
"I appreciate it and am very thankful," he said. "As I explained to a co-worker, I was always taught that no matter what, you do it well or don't do it at all."
"Beyond that, the greatest part is you have to love other people. It's about what your motivation is," he said. "I am kind to my co-workers. We have to work as a team, that's true, but we are fellow human beings, that's the primary reason."
Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi, at the award presentation ceremony during a recent commissioners court meeting, said, "He's the good that came to us from Hurricane Katrina. He made an immediate impact with his gentle ways and excellent work ethic."
Even without the plaque he was awarded, Waller said he receives another kind of honor on a daily basis.
"I have had many awards throughout the year and those are the friends I have made here," he said. "Each person I work with is an award and I am fortunate to work with such people."
Breakout corrected March 9, 2011.