Senior tradesman

William Dobie, Yale plumber and steamfitter.
Bill Dobie, Physical Plant

William “Bill” Dobie, affectionately known as “Dobie,” has been a Yale plumber and steamfitter for five decades. A master of pipes, be they for steam heat, hot-water heat, chilled water, or domestic hot and cold water, he has repaired all makes and models to keep the university running and its property protected. There is not a leak, break, burst or clog that Dobie has not encountered and eliminated.

Currently a member of the Yale Plumbing Team for Central Campus, he and his fellow plumbers cover 13.5 million square feet of building space, including the Athletics fields and their buildings. Dobie knows many of the 400 building layouts by heart—where to go and what to do for everything from too-cold, too-hot rooms to leaks in ceilings. When not fixing plumbing problems, which often means spending hours locating a leak’s source, he participates in the preventative maintenance program that aims to minimize emergency calls through the inspection and repair of pipes and their related systems.

In 2023, Dobie worked on a program with Yale Environmental Health and Safety to prevent hazardous energy releases, like steam, in the workplace by disabling the respective machinery or equipment on site. Dobie volunteered, took the lead, and worked with his supervisor Lou Perleoni to take what he learned and teach it to the other plumbers.

“The lockout/tag out program is a perfect example of Bill's excellent work,” said Perleoni. His involvement not only showed his professionalism, but also showed how he can inspire others to work together and perform as a team.”

Following in dad’s footsteps

Dobie was born in Rome, New York, and grew up in Cheshire, and then Hamden, Connecticut. One of six children, his first job was at Yale where his father worked. Dobie’s dad, Al, joined Yale after graduating from Cornell, beginning as an assistant manager in one of the dining halls, moving to director of food services, and finally to director of operations for his last five years at Yale. Dobie joined Yale part-time at 16 years old, washing pots and pans in a School of Medicine dining hall. When he showed interest in following a trade, his dad bought him his first drill. After graduating from high school, Dobie spent a year working full-time in Yale custodial services before taking part in the Yale Plumbing apprentice program.

When Dobie completed the apprentice program along with nine other graduates, he became state licensed as a plumber and steamfitter. Professional steamfitters are essential to maintaining heating systems that consist mainly of pipes carrying steam to Yale buildings. The pipes were, and still are, located in a maze of steam tunnels under the university. Still expertly familiar with the tunnels, Dobie works in them mainly to turn valves on and off given the season.

President Salovey and senior leaders recognized Dobie’s 50 years of service at the Long-Service Recognition Dinner held in May. Dobie is one of 331 staff members who marked milestone anniversaries this year.

A calming influence

Dobie has been a dependable presence at emergency situations over the years. He remembers a situation in the 80’s at the Payne Whitney Gym where the sprinkler lines froze, burst, and leaked for days, filling the sub-basement with six feet of water. Most often the culprit has been a New England cold snap followed by a thaw. He also recalls a time at Pierson College when pipes burst, water flowed outside, and froze on the exterior of the building. When the inevitable thaw began, the brick was soaking wet and, as Dobie says, “The building looked like it was crying.” For decades, he and his fellow plumbers have been the first responders on the soaked scenes no matter what time of day or night. Today, their plumbing assignments are distributed from their supervisor or the dispatch center at 344 Winchester Avenue while other Plumbing and Utilities shifts cover the university 24/7.

“When you go on a job with Bill,” said fellow plumber Rich Loesche, “it’s like he’s been there a hundred times before. No matter what the situation is, a flood or some other catastrophe, he’s a calming influence. He knows where to go and what to do, and he’s all about solving the problem and making the customer happy.”

“Bill is such an expert in his craft because he has put the time in, the hours,” added Rich Esposito, plumbing partner. “He is so respected by his peers because of his knowledge of the university, which has morphed into a city over the years. And to take care of this city, you’ve got to spend time here to get to know its ins and its outs, and he has.”

When teammates are like family

Dobie enjoys the variety of the work he has been doing for 50 years. He never knows what the day will bring until he reviews the jobs that are assigned to him. His day can also be unpredictable when dispatched emergency calls need immediate attention. What he enjoys even more are his teammates, who are like family: “The guys I work with, we’ve been together a long time, and we work hand in hand. We tend to brainstorm as we approach each problem. We recall earlier jobs and how we solved them. It is a nice way to work. Everybody splits up in the morning to get to their job sites, but we’re in constant communication.”

And what does Dobie think of his 50-year anniversary? “The time flew by. You stay so busy, and we’ve always had a good group of guys.”