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As I See It

A bartender saves the world

That’s not a facetious headline. Yes, Doc Hendley is (or was) a bartender and he’s done more good in the world bringing clean drinking water to the third world than most people, even huge foundations. There are rich, well-known foundations that I don’t need to name working in Africa and Asia to bring sanitation and clean water to villagers who have none. None of them, however, has done as much as Doc Hendley. And I’m sure none of the millionaires and billionaires behind them have ever been shot at by the Janjaweed in Darfur like Doc Hendley has.

Dickson (Doc) Hendley was the black sheep in a family of high achievers, who had drifted around the country and ended up back home in North Carolina, playing country music and tending bar, a job that he really loved because he likes people. Doc told the members of Mechanical Service Contractors of America at their recent convention in Southern California about his defining moment when a friend of his told him he had so much more to offer the world. “Is this it, Doc?” she asked. “Playing crappy covers of Johnny Cash songs and tending bar?” “Yep,” he answered.

But that got him thinking and one night not too long afterward he awoke from a dream with the phrase “wine to water” in his head. He sat up and wrote it down, thinking it may be the title of a country song. He puzzled over it. He knew a lot about wine, being a bartender so he thought perhaps he needed to know something about water. He got on the computer and Googled water issues and the first item that popped up said that 1.2 billion people in the world lack clean drinking water.

That sent him on his quest. Doc organized a fundraiser in January of 2004, got donations of liquor and food (Doc, naturally, donated the musical entertainment) and 300 people showed up. He was amazed. Another bar owner, who was in attendance, asked Doc to host a fundraiser at his place. Pretty soon Doc was sitting on $10,000 that he wasn’t sure what to do with; he wondered if he was somehow breaking the law. So he found a charity, Samaritan’s Purse, that he thought was appropriate and went to its offices to donate the money. Instead of merely taking the money, the head of Samaritan’s Purse asked Doc to work for the charity. They would train him and then send him to anyplace water was needed.

Doc asked to be sent to the worst place in the world. Modest and self-effacing, Doc joked that he figured that he couldn’t screw up the worst place in the world. His choices were Afghanistan or Darfur. He went to Darfur where the Sudanese government was engaged on genocide so savage that the UN and other aid organizations were afraid to go there.

Women and children there walked for hours to fill jugs with water. Doc started small. He found a guy with a truck and a water tank and hauled water to the village. That lasted until the government helicopters shot up the tank and the truck. Doc found hundreds of broken and abandoned wells in the region and began taking them apart and tinkering. He discovered that often the wells had no pressure because an O-ring had corroded or a length of pipe had rusted through. The fixes were simple and cheap, so Doc trained the villagers to repair them themselves and put together well repair kits.

Since then Doc formed Wine to Water as an official 501(c)(3) non-profit ( He’s traveled all over the world helping people learn how to inexpensively supply themselves with clean water, and in 2009 he was recognized by the CNN Heroes program.

Doc got a standing ovation from the MSCA crowd, along with a check for $10,000 presented by Mechanical Contractors Association of America President Chuck Fell. Doc’s book, “Wine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World,” is available online from all of the major booksellers in hardcover, paperback and e-reader versions. It has a 4.6 out of 5.0 star rating on Amazon.

See? A bartender really can save the world.

Let's connect on Twitter @bobmader

TAGS: Plumbing
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