To call Ed Walters determined would be an understatement.
A Hallsville native, Walters grew up — and still lives — about 12 miles from Eastman Chemical, a large industrial company of about 6,000 employees.
After graduating from Hallsville High School in 1988, he skipped college and went straight to work. Two years later, he was married and a father of twins, a boy and a girl. A second son came along later.
“I’ve fitted, welded, fabricated and done industrial work all my life,” he said. “I’ve been a supervisor, a lead tech, worked on cars, you name it.”
Getting a job at Eastman was a longtime goal that had eluded him.
“I applied for jobs there six times and was turned down all six times,” he said.
On Friday, Walters, now age 52, graduates magna cum laude with an Associate of Applied Science degree in industrial maintenance technology.
On Saturday, he and his wife leave on a well-deserved, weeklong cruise to Mexico.
On the following Monday, May 23, he starts his new job at Eastman.
“This is great news and just the kind of story that reflects the commitment of TJC to our vision of educating everyone,” said Kim Lessner, TJC vice president for operations and chief operations officer.
Walters looks back somewhat amazed at how it all transpired.
Two years ago, he was working for a trucking company when the pandemic threw a curveball that became an opportunity.
“I was working for one of my best friends, doing maintenance on her semi-trucks and trailers,” he said, “and then Covid hit and everything started slowing down. I went to her and said, ‘Look, I’m not stupid. I know things are slow. When you have four semi-trucks and only one is out on the road, you’re not making money.’”
He continued, “I knew she couldn’t afford to keep paying me and told her it was OK to lay me off, that I would draw unemployment and find something to do. And I told her I was interested in going back to school anyway.”
So, she reluctantly let him go and, at age 50, Walters set out on a new journey.
He called up Link Worthen, professor/coordinator of TJC’s industrial maintenance technology program.
“Link was so great and helpful,” Walters said. “He invited me and my wife Kim to come over and talk. He showed us around, and then we had a conversation about what I wanted to do. After about an hour, he said, ‘I think you can do it.’”
With no previous college work under his belt, Walters spent the first part of his time at TJC playing catch-up.
“I had to do all of my prerequisites,” he said. “Math was probably the hardest course I took — with sets, subsets and complements of sets and all of that — because it had been so long since I had taken a math class. There were times I would just look at the computer and say, ‘I’m done.’ But I had a lot of support from my wife, who kept me calm and told me to keep going. She has been my biggest source of support through all of this.”
He has nothing but the highest regard for his TJC instructors.
“Link was a great help in many ways,” he said, “and (Electrical/Electronic Controls) Prof. Billy Calcote helped me a lot with computers, which we really didn’t have when I was in high school — and which I had no real experience in until I got here. They all prepared me extremely well.”
Earning his TJC degree not only helped Walters professionally, it also served as a boost to his self-image.
“The degree got me in the door at Eastman, but it also represents my growth between 1988 and now,” he said. “Back in high school, my GPA was just enough to graduate, but I worked hard and prided myself on my GPA in college.”
He continued, “I also have more pride in myself now, too. I’m a big guy. I weigh 357 pounds, and I go to the gym and work out. When I walk into a room, I want people to look at me and know I can do that job and say, ‘Hey, he’s probably got another 15 or 20 more years [of work] in him.’”
Asked what advice he would offer to anyone thinking about a midlife reboot, Walters says, “Go for it, and don’t give up. When you get frustrated, and you will, just work through it. If you want something bad enough, you’ve just got to go for it.”