Third-shift housekeeper brings the clean — and the joy

Massey Award winner David Barnette Jr. is busy on and off the job, but he always makes time to connect with others.

David Barnette Jr.
Co-workers say Barnette Jr. could run for mayor because "he knows everyone in Chapel Hill." (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

At 7 sharp on a Tuesday morning, David Barnette Jr. called, just as he said he would. The day was young, but as a Carolina housekeeper on third shift — 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. — Barnette had been up and working for all of it. He had a few minutes to talk before he reported to Kenan Stadium for another four hours — extra hands needed to prepare for Spring Commencement. After that, he might be off to coach Little League baseball for Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation or help the owner of The Shoe Repair on Fordham Boulevard, drawing on his 44 years in the shoe-repair business.

Winner of a 2023 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, Barnette, building and environmental services technician with Facilities Services, is a busy man, but he always makes time to connect with others.

“I love being around people and just talking to them, just enjoying ourselves as we communicate with each other,” Barnette said.

Friendliness does not get seven buildings clean in eight hours. Every night, Barnette and 12 Zone 225 teammates vacuum, mop, dust, scrub restrooms, empty trash and wash windows at Coker, Carrington, Wilson, Mitchell and Fordham halls, plus the Sonja Haynes Stone Center and the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic. Wielding leaf blowers, they clear debris from the buildings’ entrances. They deal with unforeseen mishaps, whether it’s spilled coffee or a raccoon that snuck in through an open window. They also make time to tackle larger projects, such as stripping wax from a floor and applying a new coat.

“He does a phenomenal job,” said his supervisor, Joseph Chetelat. “Since David has been here, I’ve never seen anything that he’s missed. He sees things that other people don’t, like little marks on the wall, or things that need to be fixed. He sees those little details. And he cleans to a high level. To be honest with you, that’s hard to find.”

That combination of talent and friendliness inspired Chetelat and James Stamey to nominate Barnette for a Massey Award. Though Stamey manages a different zone on first shift, he often works alongside Barnette at the Dean E. Smith Center, helping keep the facility clean during and after men’s basketball games. Barnette’s approach is infectious, he said.

“When you’re there, and you’ve got all this work during the game, it helps to have someone to help you during the hard times as well as the good,” Stamey said. “Having been a zone manager on third shift, I know that someone with his attitude and professionalism would bode well amongst other co-workers and help get them through the night.”

Barnette is a remarkable teammate, Chetelat said. “When he’s working with another employee, they work together, but David also trains as he’s working with them. Even though that’s not his job, he’s there to help out.”

Barnette grew up in York, South Carolina, and wanted to play basketball professionally. When that dream didn’t pan out, he attended nearby Denmark Technical College and became a welder. He moved to Chapel Hill in 1974 and worked for Lacock’s Shoe Store & Shoe Repair Shop until it closed in 2018. At that point, Finance and Operations employee Trevaughn Eubanks, a friend of Barnette’s from First Baptist Church and a 2022 Massey Award winner, helped him apply for a job on campus.

Even without an extensive background in cleaning, Barnette quickly mastered the job’s various skills, Stamey said. “From what I see in the Smith Center, he knows how to manage his time. That’s the biggest thing about being a housekeeper in any institutional setting,” Stamey said. “He manages his time while he pays attention to detail. He has a good eye for what’s clean and what’s not.”

Both Stamey and Chetelat said Barnette could run for mayor. He seems to know everyone — from those who work on the security or concession teams inside the arena to former chancellors and basketball players. “He knows everyone in Chapel Hill,” Chetelat said. “He goes up to almost everyone walking by, hugging them and asking about their family.”

Barnette said that no matter where he works, people are his favorite aspect of the job. “I love the people,” he said. “I enjoy being a team player, helping where I need to help out.”

What would Barnette like for people to know about him? “That I’m a kind-hearted loving person willing to go the extra mile,” he said. “If I can help anybody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.”