David Legg did two tours of duty and flew a helicopter during the Vietnam War; in fact, he was among the last combat troops to fly out of Plaku airfield when the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973.
He had volunteered for the Army, dropping out of West Virginia Tech and a nascent engineering education. “Quite honestly, I lost interest,” he recalled.
After the Army, he came to West Virginia University and graduated with a business administration degree in 1975—during a severe recession. Still, he got a job, working for a company that built railroad cars in Huntington, W.Va.
Then, in 1978, he found his calling: It was water. He met an old friend who was president of West Virginia Water, who convinced him to take a job as customer service representative at the company. Now, 32 years later, Legg is New Jersey American Water’s senior director of business development.
In April, he received dual honors at the American Water Works Association (AWWA) New Jersey annual conference. Legg received The Dedication Award, given to a member who has demonstrated outstanding service and dedication. He also received the Kenneth J. Miller Founders’ Award from Water for People. The award is presented to outstanding volunteers for service and leadership in the advancement of Water for People, an organization that helps people in developing countries improve their quality of life by supporting development of drinking water resources, sanitation facilities, and hygiene education programs.
“It must have been around 1985 when I made the decision about what I was in the world to do,” Legg recalled. “It was taking care of people’s water. It was when I understood I had an opportunity to serve people. It’s not work: I have a passion for it. That’s why I’m still here. I know how important clean drinking water is.”
Water for People began as an AWWA project and is now an independent non-profit. The group’s mission is “to build a world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation and where no one suffers or dies from a water- or sanitation-related disease.”
“The people in this association are like me: many of them have spent their whole lives helping people have good drinking water,” Legg said. “It’s something we take for granted—you just turn your faucet on. But we recognize that people in some countries don’t have this.”
One statistic got his attention. He learned that every 15 seconds a child somewhere dies from water-related disease or sanitation issues. “That was completely unacceptable to me, and I wanted to get involved and to have an impact on changing that statistic.”
He is also involved with Rotary International, which has a similar project: Pure Water for the World. They are working on a project along Peru’s Rimac River, which flows from a lake in the Andes Mountains and ends in Peru’s desert capital city, Lima. Because of mining, the river is contaminated with cadmium, lead and arsenic, among other metals. The group hopes to provide 5,000 water filters to one impoverished community.
“They live along the river because that’s where the water is, but the problem is the water is polluted,” said Legg, who raises money to buy the filters. “We try to raise $20,000 to $30,000 a year and we are confident that we will eventually get it done.”
At 64, Legg has thought about retirement, but he’s putting it off. He’s doing what he likes to do, and much of his work involves public service, his passion. “I still have the enthusiasm for my job I had 20 years ago, and I’m working on interesting projects. I get up every day and can’t wait to get to the job.”
His education at the WVU College of Business and Economics has served him well, he said, and he hasn’t regretted leaving engineering. “What I learned in the military and working on the new interstate highway system during the summer while I was a student at Tech was that I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer. I also had a commission in the Army Corps of Engineers, but again, I saw that it wasn’t my calling in life. How did I pick business administration? When I enrolled in WVU, I found out what I could major in to transfer the most hours from Tech that would give me a good education and let me make a difference in the world.”
He describes coming to WVU as “another of my great decisions,” along with marrying his wife, Carol, who worked at the WVU Hospital and helped him finance his education.
His advice to today’s students is to plan their lives, revisit their plans and to get involved in public service early.
“I laid out a plan of where I wanted to be in life, and it has come true,” he said. “Now I’m working on the final phase and what I’ll do for the next 15 or 20 years.”
Today’s students would do well to “have a vision and plan for it and be committed to the plan. “And you have to have milestones along the way and check your plan,” he added. “Look past the next five years, visualize where you want to be, and write it down. Visit it periodically or it won’t happen. Check if you are on track with your life plan.”
Legg visited Guatemala and went back to Vietnam recently. He plans a trip to Peru next year. “The issues in these countries have touched my heart,” he said. “It is about giving people a hand up so they have resources to help themselves. They are stuck in a never-ending cycle of poverty because they can't get their most basic need—clean water. Women and children spend most of their time carrying water from polluted streams, rivers, ponds, and wells. Providing clean water in the communities will allow the women to work to help support their families and the children to attend school.”