Patricia Mathis hasn’t been able to hit the snooze button on the alarm since Saturday, Jan. 13. That was the day before her husband, Technical Skills Specialist Roy Mathis, set off with 107 other Duke Energy Florida linemen, technicians and support staff to help repower Puerto Rico.
Patricia Mathis does her best to keep everything going, including her full-time job. Without family in town in Lake Mary, Fla., it’s been a heavy load. After 17 years of marriage, Patricia Mathis said she’s used to deployments, but this is the longest he’s ever been gone.
More than 200 Duke Energy workers from Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and the Carolinas joined other mainland power company workers to help restore power on the island in mid-January. Many will return home in early March.
“A day in my life without Roy starts with the alarm clock going off at 5 a.m. I wake the kids at 6 a.m., and we try to be out the door by 7:15. School lets in at 7:25 and I start work at 8 a.m.,” she said. “I leave work at 4 p.m., grab the kids from school and we head to martial arts or gymnastics. Depending on what day it is and what classes the kids have, I run home, fix the kids a quick bite to eat or we grab something on the go. I won't even mention the days where there's a school event in the evening, but we manage to get it done.”
Once they get home, Patricia Mathis does a backpack check, goes over grades, events, papers that may need to be signed and returned, quizzes the kids for upcoming tests, helps with homework and then it’s bath time.
“About 9:30 p.m., if Reese can keep her eyes open, we have story time, and the kids are in bed by 10 p.m. I lie down and get just enough sleep to wake up and start all over again,” she said laughing.
Daily phone and FaceTime calls keep the family connected. Roy Mathis gets updates on his children’s progress in school and their many activities. He’s been providing encouragement to Royce, 9, a straight-A student, to keep on track with his reading. In return, Dad tells stories about the island, their progress and the people.
“Today some members of the crew got into some pica-pica,” Roy Mathis told his children. Pica-pica is a vine with purplish flowers and brown seed pods that dislodge, land on the skin and cause itching. “It’s the island version of poison ivy.”
Hurricane Maria devastated the island in October. The Duke Energy team was assigned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Ponce, a city on the southern coast. Residents help the teams navigate mountainous terrain and assist with the clearing of dense vegetation with machetes.
Roy Mathis, who was born and raised in Wildwood, Fla., started his career as a lineman with Sumter Electric and moved to central Florida in 2002. He has worked for Duke Energy for 16 years and is based in Apopka.
“It’s hard going in the mountains, but we’re getting there,” Roy Mathis told his family. “It’s old-fashioned line work and very challenging. The people in the mountains are very friendly and, boy, they can cook!”
Residents have offered food, water, anything the crews need. After more than a month on the island, the team definitely misses home. While it’s been hard work in tough conditions, Roy Mathis offered his most important takeaway.
“We don’t know how blessed we are in the States until you come here and see how hospitable these people are after being without power for so long,” he said. “It’s definitely been worth it. Especially when we turn the people’s power back on. They came out front and they had a karaoke machine. They were hollering ‘U.S.A.’ and ‘Duke Energy.’ It was all worth it then.”
Patricia Mathis, Royce and Reese, 6, are looking forward to his return. They have planned a family vacation.
“Lord knows I need it,” Patricia Mathis said. “I haven't had a day off since that plane departed the airport.”