The region vice president of Georgia Power has always been driven. He grew up on a Waynesboro farm as one of 12 children. Even back then, he wanted to be the best, said his wife, Mary.
"Whatever he does, he's going to put 110 percent in it. He's going to exceed expectations. That's his nature. When we first met, I think that's how we were attracted to each other -- we were both competitive," Mrs. Dukes said.
They competed against each other all the time, such as in the school spelling bee.
"I could never beat him, though. I would always come in second place, and he would always come in first," she said. "He ended up being the valedictorian in the eighth grade, and I was the salutatorian. I figured since I could never beat him, I'd better marry him."
An industrious student, Mr. Dukes caught the attention of high school counselors, and he earned the opportunity to attend boarding school and later some of the top colleges in the country.
In September, Mr. Dukes will reach 28 years with Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co. He is one of eight region vice presidents in Georgia.
"It's been an interesting career, and a good career. I've enjoyed it," Mr. Dukes said.
An electrical engineer by training, Mr. Dukes started as an engineer at Plant Vogtle and worked his way up to top positions at the company.
Of all his job responsibilities, he enjoys leading people the most.
"I love the people piece of it. That's why I gravitate more toward organizations with people in them. That's why I'm in the ministry as well. I just love people," Mr. Dukes said.
To say that Mr. Dukes is a busy man is an understatement. The executive is an active member of numerous boards in the Augusta area and serves as pastor of two churches in Burke County: First McCanaan Baptist Church and Oak Grove Baptist Church.
"I kid him all the time about him being on all the boards except for the ironing board and the washboard," his wife said jokingly. "I'm proud of him. He's a hard worker."
Mrs. Dukes often gets involved in his activities.
"That makes it easier for me to do all that I do, even on the church side. That way I don't feel like I'm sacrificing family. I believe in having a strong family relationship. I think family is so important," Mr. Dukes said.
His work days are fairly long because of his many job duties and community activities. Georgia Power has 11 customer service offices in the region, and he supervises 168 employees.
The Augusta region has five of Georgia Power's largest 20 customers. In this region, the largest clients are: Augusta Newsprint, Olin Corp., DSM Chemicals, PCS Nitrogen Inc. and International Paper, Mr. Dukes said.
"Our region has been one of the top regions in the state in most of the years I've been back here. I attribute that, not to me, but to my management team. I have a great management team and great employees," he said.
Mr. Dukes' business associates attribute the region's success to his leadership abilities.
Ed Tarver, a Georgia state senator, met Mr. Dukes about six years ago through their service at the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.
"Walt is a dynamic leader but has a calm, quiet leadership. He's certainly well respected and many in the community seek out his guidance and opinions regarding issues related to economic development," Mr. Tarver said.
Through his "thoughtful, reasoned leadership," Mr. Dukes has furthered Georgia Power's mission, addressed tough issues and enhanced the company's presence in the Augusta community, Mr. Tarver added.
Sue Parr, the president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, agrees.
"He is an outstanding leader," she said. "Walt has an incredible sense of understanding where there are differing points of view. It's one of the things I love best about Walt.
"He can take many different points of view and find that one nugget that everybody agrees to."
Mr. Dukes served as the chamber's chairman in 2007.
"He has a very important job, but it didn't stop him from doing everything that he needed to do for our organization," Ms. Parr said. "He brings a tremendous amount of leadership to the discussion, and he's a very positive person. I think the world of him."
Mr. Dukes was born sixth of 12 children; two of his siblings died at birth. His father, Enoch Dukes Sr., was a farmer. His mother, Ollie Bell Dukes, was a stay-at-home mom, who took a job at Keller Aluminum Chairs when her children were older.
Farming and growing up in a large family are among Mr. Dukes' favorite childhood memories.
"I enjoyed the openness of the country and a freshly plowed field. I just enjoyed playing in the dirt. That was a lot of fun," he said.
Mr. Dukes was a studious child. He learned many valuable lessons from his grandfather, Noah Dukes, who was a minister.
"My granddaddy was a great teacher. We used to spend a lot of time at his house, and he would hold spelling bees. We would sit around his big chair and look up at him as he would teach us," Mr. Dukes recalled.
Of all his lessons, those in math were among the most influential. His grandfather taught him math starting at a young age: how to add and multiply large numbers in his head. This love for mathematics stayed with Mr. Dukes and later inspired him to become an engineer.
The same year Mr. Dukes was born, his father lost his left arm in an accident. He was driving a truck for Brown Trucking Co. and a dump truck crushed his arm. The arm had to be amputated, but he never let his disability slow him down.
"He was so good with that hook, and could do so many things, even with one arm. It was amazing," Mr. Dukes said. "He could do just as much work as a two-armed person. He worked through adversity and didn't let it negatively impact his life."
His father maintained the family farm until the early 1970s, when he accepted a position with the city of Waynesboro.
When Mr. Dukes reached the 10th grade, a high school counselor saw his potential and suggested that he apply to a program called A Better Chance, which gave students an opportunity to attend boarding school at Boggs Academy in Keysville, Ga.
Mr. Dukes was awarded a scholarship and attended Boggs Academy for his last two years in high school. The school was a melting pot of students from many states and countries. He lived on campus, and he drove a trash truck, washed dishes and read parking meters to make ends meet.
He graduated in 1976 as valedictorian. After graduation, he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, but later transferred to Georgia Tech to pursue his engineering studies. His mother wanted him to become a doctor, but Mr. Dukes loved math.
During the first two summers in college, Mr. Dukes worked at Kimberly-Clark in Beech Island, where he worked a jack hammer. He landed the job when a woman who read his graduation announcement and accomplishments in the newspaper made a phone call to the plant manager and got him the position.
"I thought that was impressive, and it helped me considerably. It was one of the best-paying summer jobs around," Mr. Dukes said.
The next two summers, Mr. Dukes worked at Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Burke County, where he was offered a job after graduation. He worked as an engineer there for five years until he was offered a job as a distribution engineer for Georgia Power in Waynesboro, where he engineered power lines.
Mr. Dukes worked his way up to operating supervisor in Waynesboro, managing line crews and engineers, and later became area manager, where his duties included supervising sales.
On the rise
Mr. Dukes became a lobbyist for Georgia Power in Atlanta in 1994, after his wife urged him to take the job.
"I spent four years lobbying for the company and advocating various legislation, spending time at the Capitol," Mr. Dukes said.
Later, he was appointed Georgia Power's Southwest region manager in Atlanta, in charge of the area from Carrollton to the Alabama line. A few years later, he was given the job of region distribution manager, in which he was responsible for distribution operations for one-third of Georgia.
In 2001, he accepted his current job as Georgia Power's region manager in Augusta. He is in charge of regional operations, sales, marketing, distribution, line crews and line construction. The job title was later changed to region vice president.
Until recently, Mr. Dukes said, the utility business faced a challenge in attracting talent -- especially during the dot-com era.
"But now we've been able to attract some very good engineers, even here in my region. That's been exciting, to be able to bring in fresh talent," he said.
It was also challenging to find line workers, but tools such as employee training programs have improved recruitment efforts.
"We spent a lot of time making sure this was a great place to work. Folks will come work for you if they view it as a great place to work," Mr. Dukes said.
Tim McGill, Mr. Dukes' assistant, has been a Georgia Power employee for 27 years and has worked for Mr. Dukes for the past seven years.
"Walt is a man of integrity and a lot of character," Mr. McGill said. "He's very genuine and a people person. When he's in a room full of people, he's constantly getting out and meeting people and shaking hands.
"I've been very impressed with the way Walt has grown his presence in the community and how he has represented Georgia Power and Augusta. He's very well-respected in multiple circles in this community. That's something that I most admire about Walt."
Walk of faith
Mr. Dukes was a lobbyist in Atlanta in 1998 when he answered the call to the ministry. He says that he initially had been called to the ministry in college but didn't accept.
Over the years, he had pursued other church leadership roles, such as becoming chairman of a deacon board.
He enrolled in a master's seminary program at Luther Rice University in Lithonia, Ga., in 1999, though he still needs to finish his degree.
He began his role as a pastor in 2002, dividing his time between two sister churches, First McCanaan Baptist Church and Oak Grove Baptist Church, both in Burke County.
"I love to teach, and I love to preach," he said. "I really love ministry, helping people and changing people's lives. It's what I call repositioning people. I like to see the outcome of people changing and making a difference."
He has delivered more than 400 sermons.
"My wife has only missed one. And she heard half of that one. That tells you that she is very involved in my life and she's very supportive," he said.
Mr. Dukes said that he doesn't allow his work with Georgia Power and the ministry to affect each other. His wife said the two churches have joint Bible study and summer retreats, which make things easier.
"We're doing a lot of ministry development right now. They're not full-time ministries, so that's how I'm able to do this. But I think they're moving in the direction of being full-time ministries," he said.
When that happens, Mr. Dukes said, he will have to make a decision about his career.
"He considers pastoring his first role, working for the Lord. He's sincere about what he does," Mrs. Dukes said.
Mr. Tarver said: "I don't think you'll find very many who are more dedicated and committed to helping others without any regard for personal gain."
Mr. Dukes' relationship with his wife seemed as though it were destined from the start.
"I married my eighth-grade sweetheart," Mr. Dukes said.
They met through a school friend, and Mrs. Dukes said that she knew he was the one. They have been married for 27 years.
"There was something different about him," Mrs. Dukes said.
After they were wed Feb. 26, 1982, they lived in a mobile home on Mrs. Dukes' family's farm in Keysville, Ga.
"We still have that mobile home. In fact, we just did some remodeling," he said.
Money was tight. After paying for their mobile home, septic tank and other expenses, they had $60 remaining until Mr. Dukes' next paycheck.
Mrs. Dukes' parents wanted to help them, but the young couple refused to accept the money. They wanted to do things on their own.
"Managing that $60 together and figuring out how to make it work, it drew us even closer together," he said.
His wife, who worked as a nurse, left the work force after the birth of their third child, Matthew, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
One week after he was born, they went to Atlanta for testing, then drove home in silence, emotionally distraught at the diagnosis.
"We named him Matthew, not knowing what Matthew meant. It means a 'gift from God.' He truly is a gift from God. He blesses everybody he ever touches," Mr. Dukes said.
Matthew, who is highly functional, turns 15 this month. He loves music and church, and he is taking swimming lessons. His father wants him to learn to play the piano.
Today, parents who have children with Down syndrome call Mr. Dukes for advice.
The apple didn't fall far from the tree for Mr. Dukes' two oldest sons. They have followed in their father's footsteps, and his middle son, Walter II, works as a distribution engineer at Georgia Power in Valdosta. His oldest son, DuGrandal, who spent 10 years in the military, is studying mechanical engineering at Augusta Technical College.
"You can't find a better father. The Lord has really blessed me. His sons respect and love him," Mrs. Dukes said.
Mr. Tarver often sees his friend exercising with his family at the YMCA on Saturdays.
"I'm encouraged by the way that he's been able to organize his time and his life. He's able to make time for things that are important," Mr. Tarver said.
James Kendrick, the owner of Augusta Blueprint, has known Mr. Dukes for almost 20 years. He said his friend and golfing buddy is a "rare individual."
"He's reflective, thoughtful, kind and caring," Mr. Kendrick said. "He's just a very special man."
Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TITLES: Region vice president of Georgia Power, pastor at First McCanaan Baptist Church and Oak Grove Baptist Church in Burke County
BORN: Sept. 30, 1958, in Waynesboro, Ga.
EDUCATION: Georgia Tech, bachelor of science in electrical engineering; Harvard University, professional management development training; Luther Rice University, seminary studies
FAMILY: Wife, Mary; and sons DuGrandal Antonio, Walter II, and Matthew
CIVIC: Augusta Tomorrow, vice chairman of board; Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, board member and past chairman; Community Foundation, board member; Rotary Club of Augusta; First Tee, board member; Salvation Army, board member; United Way, campaign chairman; Augusta Technical College, chairman of board; Queensborough National Bank & Trust Co., board member; CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, board member; and 30901 Development Corp., board member
HOBBIES: Reading, hunting, fishing