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Boonsboro man 'bridges' the grievance gap

November 26, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Construction of the bridge over the Potomac River is filling a gap in Willis Leggett's life.

His wife, Nettie Pearl Leggett, died in February at the age of 75. They would have been married 60 years this month.

"So, now I don't know what to get into," said Leggett, 81, who lives near Boonsboro. "I get in the car and take a ride."

Most days, Leggett parks his Mercedes Benz - don't be fooled, he said, he's not rich - on the shoulder near the Shepherdstown border and watches construction of the new bridge.

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Leggett stands by himself on the existing bridge, scanning the work overhead on the new bridge and the water far below.

He's gotten to know some of the workers - by face, anyway. He ribs them that they should get down before they fall. They smile and call back.

He brought one worker some salmon that he and his sons caught in Michigan.

Leggett has become a fixture on the bridge the past few months, based on honks and greetings he gets.

One recent clear morning, Leggett stood on the bridge sidewalk and tilted his porkpie hat down as he fiddled with his wallet. He found what he wanted: two photos of his wife. Holding the pictures up, he said he didn't deserve someone so good.

Leggett immersed himself in the bridge work because the Potomac River and its crossings have been central in his life.

Growing up around Boonsboro, he sometimes went to Shepherdstown with his family to see his grandparents. They crossed the river on a road that's no longer there.

"My dad would always complain you have to pay a toll both ways," he said.

Leggett also remembers getting free rides on a ferry that's gone, too.

From the Maryland side, he watched workers build the current bridge in 1939.

Leggett speaks fondly of what he's observed up close of the new project - dollies, a 500-ton crane, footings, girders, thousands of bolts.

Work on the bridge started last year, after years of delays. It's expected to open next summer.

About nine years ago, Leggett left Beachley Furniture Co. after working there for 53 years.

On the side, Leggett played guitar with Hal Heagy's band in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, he said.

Leggett said he's always been handy at home, fixing his own furnace and changing his own motor oil, so he understands good workmanship.

Leggett has six sons and one daughter, most of whom live in the Tri-State area. A son, Lonnie, and two grandsons are living with him because their house was damaged by a tornado in September.

He has 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"At Christmastime, it's a riot," Leggett said.

But he's anticipating an empty holiday season without his wife. "It ain't Christmas anymore," he said.

Leggett jokes with construction workers that he's going to watch the next Potomac River bridge project, too.

"I want to be around when they build the one to replace this one," he said.

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