Generations of Excellence Barry Surber, left, and his father William Surber are both longtime shipbuilders and Model of Excellence award recipients. Photo by Matt Hildreth

Generations of Excellence

Published December 3, 2020

In August 1977, young shipbuilder William Surber brought his wife Jeanne – 9 months pregnant at the time – to the launch of liquefied natural gas tanker El Paso Arzew at Newport News Shipbuilding. Born just a few days later, their son, Barry Surber, has forged his own path at NNS.

“He’s been in the shipyard since before he was born, but we had no idea that he was going to go the route he did on that day,” said William Surber, a former welder who now works for Welding Services. Barry Surber enrolled in The Apprentice School as a pipefitter in 1995. He graduated after completing the advanced design program and now works in Contracts and Pricing.

For a time, the Surbers both worked on the deckplate on new construction aircraft carriers, albeit on different shifts. “I was on first shift, and he was on third,” Barry Surber said. “We’d pass each other.”

The father and son – second- and third-generation shipbuilders – have something else in common. They’ve both received NNS’ highest honor – a Model of Excellence award. William Surber was awarded in 1999 for Leadership, and Barry Surber received his award for Operational Excellence in 2018.

“I wasn’t working to get an award. I hadn’t even heard of it,” William Surber said. First-time quality always has been an expectation.

“I knew that was in my father and it spilled over into me. And that spilled over into my son,” William Surber said.

Both men said they are grateful for the opportunities they’ve had at NNS. “My loyalty is with the shipyard. It’s given me everything I’ve got. I’m 43, and 25 of those years have been in here,” Barry Surber said.

Since he now works with the refueling and complex overhaul of aircraft carriers, Barry Surber is looking forward to the opportunity to help overhaul a ship he helped to build – USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) – in a few years.

Although William Surber didn’t have the opportunity to work with his father, who also was a welder at NNS, he did work with others who did. He’s proud to carry on the shipbuilding legacy and share it with his son.

“There were some pretty big shoes to fill. That was one of the things that drove me to where I was in the Welding Department,” said William Surber. “A lot of the old guys who came up with me – and some I still see now – have an emotional attachment to our work on these boats. We put our heart and soul into them because they’re going to be here long after we’re gone.”