Lisa Chesser, Senior Construction Inspector
Lisa Chesser is six feet tall, but somehow she seems much taller. Her voice booms, her personality towers and her toughness comes through even when she’s being very kind.
Her motto, “Just Live,” is tattooed across her chest – a nod to the three heart attacks she has survived – and no one can accuse her of not following her own rule. Living and surviving is how she got where she is today, and it’s a driving force behind the many people and charities she supports, including a registered nonprofit called Hope On the Horizon that she runs herself.
“The need just grows more and more,” Chesser said. “I can’t turn anyone away or tell anyone who needs something no.”
Chesser, a Senior Construction Inspector working for Jacobs at TPA, has a soft spot for the homeless, having experienced it firsthand many years ago.
She grew up in south Tampa, attending Robinson High, and began working as soon as she could. When she became pregnant at age 19, she was juggling three jobs – at Publix, Westshore Pub and Church’s Chicken – and knew she couldn’t keep up the pace. When she was 22, a friend suggested she get into construction work, which at the time had a quota to meet for female employees, so she filled out an application at a local construction office and was hired on the spot.
“That was the start of my career,” Chesser said, though she was paid a low hourly wage in the beginning doing mainly roadwork.
One day while sweating away at a work site, she noticed a guy sitting in his truck and asked a coworker what he was doing. He was a concrete tester, the coworker said. So Chesser applied for certification to be a concrete tester.
“From then on, I just kept taking certification tests to move up to the next level and make more money,” Chesser said.
Still, the early days of her construction career were a struggle. At one point, she and her two young children had to live in her truck, parked near Port Tampa, for six months while fishermen looked after her and fed the family fish and grits.
A friend took Chesser and her kids in and helped her get back on her feet as she continued working in construction, but it was an experience that helped shape Chesser’s view toward homelessness.
Chesser spent several years working on bridges, roads and other major projects around the Tampa Bay area, including much of that time for the Florida Department of Transportation, before landing with Jacobs just as Tampa International Airport was launching its Master Plan expansion.
As a senior inspector, Chesser has played a big role in overseeing Taxiway J construction, the building of the Rental Car Center and several other Phase 1 projects. Currently, she’s working on the SkyCenter atrium, an important piece of Phase 2 that will be constructed over the next couple of years, as well as the Taxiway A project.
“She’s tough,” TPA Senior Construction Project Manager Rick Sanz said. “Nobody can put anything by her. Yet she also very humble. She does so much charitable work for the community, and she’s been a driving force in the office for giving to Toys for Tots and the homeless.”
Chesser has six large storage units and a truck to lug things around, and she rarely if ever turns down a discarded piece of furniture or clothing brought to her by friends or coworkers. She makes her rounds to homeless tent cities and other areas where she knows she’ll find veterans or families that need help. Sometimes she transports them to shelters or helps them find housing, other times she works to feed those who are hungry. She does it all after she leaves work for the day or on the weekends, and she brings along her 7-year-old grandson “Scooter” who lives with her.
Even with all of the responsibilities of inspecting multi-million dollar construction projects, feeding and sheltering the homeless, and helping to support and raise her kids and grandkids, Chesser keeps a fun-loving demeanor and tries to enjoy the small things in life like spending time with her family or relaxing in her pool.
“Life’s too short to worry,” she said. “That’s why I say, ‘just live.’”