Spend just five minutes visiting with Tony Rivera, and a simple word comes into sharp focus: gratitude. Because he’s the gentleman charged with maintaining and repairing the heating and air systems for the entire Butterfield campus, Tony’s very busy days take him into every building spanning the 44-acre community, often under some pretty extreme conditions. Even so, everyone he encounters along the way is inevitably left feeling lighter and brighter – not simply because of Tony’s unfailing kind words, encouragement and sincerity – but because of the extraordinary thankfulness he simply exudes.
Tony’s attitude about life and people can’t help but shine through when he describes the interesting path he has traveled. He began his career in 1977 at the tender age of 18, joining the U.S. Army Field Artillery. Tony knew military life was right for him, inspired by his father’s service in the Korean War and his grandfather’s service in both WWI and WWII. “I loved my years in the military, especially the six-and-a-half years I got to spend in Frankfurt, Germany. I had the best job there, serving as the driver for the general – who stood 7’4” tall, believe it or not. There were some great perks that came with that assignment, especially the food!” He added, “I also had the honor of serving in the Color Guard. Did you know the tallest person in the Color Guard gets to carry the American flag? I enjoyed that so much.”
After 12 years, Tony had to give up military service due to a medical discharge. Years on artillery weapons ranges had eventually harmed his hearing enough to force a return to civilian life. True to form, Tony sees only the positive in his situation, crediting the Veteran Administration for giving him an enormous gift of improved hearing through state-of-the-art devices that might be otherwise financially out of reach.
Tony didn’t let the career shift slow him down in the least, and he began putting his solid technical skills to use in the private sector as a mobile HVAC service technician. He moved to Arkansas in the 1990s, then to a suburb of Raleigh, N.C. where he worked for the nearby Harris Nuclear Power Plant in New Hill. He was eventually promoted to the level of supervisor. “I’ll tell you, that nuclear plant was the safest place I’ve ever worked,” he said. “Every single thing is so closely regulated for safety, even simple things take a long time because of all the steps that have to happen.”
Life and family circumstances eventually brought Tony back to Arkansas, and he began the search for a new career opportunity. His wife, Patricia, mentioned the idea of approaching Butterfield for a job, so he called just to see what, if anything, might be available. Hearing about Tony’s extensive HVAC experience, the facilities manager asked him to come in for an interview and he was hired on the spot. That was two years ago, and Tony said (with his beaming smile), “I have never worked anywhere this great. I love coming to work every day. The people are so friendly, it’s laid back and people treat each other like family. I get so many hugs, and it means a lot to me to get to make our residents feel good.”
Tony insists he is here to stay at Butterfield until he retires…that may be at age 67, maybe 70, but he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And you can bet that whether you see him in the halls, up on a ladder or elbow-deep in an HVAC unit, he’ll be grinning big and expressing with a full heart how much he appreciates everyone and everything around him.