Woolard steps down after 34 years as Health Department inspector

Published 8:46 am Monday, July 7, 2008

By Staff
Inspected restaurants, educated owners
Staff Writer
Donnie Woolard didn’t set out to be a restaurant sanitarian.
But that was the job he found — it’s the official title of the inspectors who check restaurant safety — when he graduated from Catawba College with a degree in health and physical education.
And the Washington native kept at it for 34 years, until he retired from the Beaufort County Health Department on Monday.
Woolard just thought he had spent enough time at the department, he said.
Woolard’s not sure what exactly he’ll be using his new-found free time for, but he has got a few ideas.
The biggest change in those 34 years is the quality of the places Woolard has inspected, he said.
He said he saw more bad places in the first 14 years he worked than in his final 20, and it’s been years since he had to shut a place down for a lousy sanitation grade, he said. “I closed a bunch of places in first 10 or 15 years,” he said.
Anything below a 70 is failing, and the department has wide-ranging authority to “shut about anything down” if there’s an imminent risk to the public welfare, such as a flow of raw sewage, Woolard said.
Woolard has probably been the most prolific inspector in the county ever, he said.
Woolard has done about 270 inspections every quarter, he said. That works out to several inspections a day of places including motels, which are inspected yearly; daycares, which are inspected twice each year, and restaurants, which get looked over quarterly.
An inspection isn’t just a quick glance around the kitchen, either, he said.
The Health Department also handles soil and well inspections and looks out for dangers like standing water that could promote mosquito breeding, Woolard said.
But even that list is down from the litany of responsibilities the department had when Woolard first started, he said.
And he wasn’t joking or exaggerating. At one point he actually was responsible for inspecting dairies in the county, but the state has since assumed that role, he said.
In addition to performing inspections in his assigned territory, Woolard has spent lots of time at his desk, going over plans for proposed restaurants and working with would-be owners of eateries.
Chains and industry veterans often come in with slick, engineer-drawn plans that are a snap to go over, but mom-and-pop operations often need to work with Woolard to turn sketches on notebook paper into something that can pass official muster, he said.
Those meetings aren’t nearly as stressful as some Woolard had earlier in his career, he said.
And when rules determining which lots are buildable changed several times in a period of a few years, Woolard often found himself “being the villain,” he said.