Cleanliness is Next to . . . Success

Before I became Occupational Health & Safety's editor, I was the managing editor of an investigating, popular weekly paper about Texas lawyers and an assistant city editor and reporter for The Houston Post. I met Alan F. Kiepper there while working a beat I enjoyed, the transportation and labor beat. Houston, a sprawling city without zoning regulations, was girded by several congested freeway belts, and the city's transit system then consisted only of hundreds of buses. The question of adding light rail transit not only was fiercely debated front-page news at that time; it provided my first trip to Europe -- to tour rail systems in West Berlin, Germany, before The Berlin Wall fell; the Netherlands; and Paris, France -- and was voted up or down in citywide votes.

The man running the city's transit system then was Alan F. Kiepper, who died last week, according to an obit I found Tuesday evening on the online front page of The New York Times. Kiepper was a fanatic for clean and well-maintained buses, and he was determined to add light or heavy rail transit to the city's system. My newspaper stories concerned ridership numbers, tax revenues, route changes, maintenance and construction, evolving rail plans, the debates and votes of the appointed Metro board of directors, and the European trip's sights and lessons.

Kiepper was a superb, focused, and driven administrator. I noticed he drank hot water at meetings rather than coffee and asked him why: to break himself of a caffeine habit, he told me. He wasn't particularly happy to see that fact mentioned in my next story, but he was kind enough to invite me and my wife to his wedding at the River Oaks Country Club (my only visit thus far to that regal domain). It demeans his memory to say he made Houston's buses run on time, but he truly did. And Houston dearly needed a good transit system then, as it does now. Read the Times' obit, and you'll know why I consider him a model of efficiency, professionalism, and dedication.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Sep 02, 2009