This is one of those atypical typical Florida Keys stories about how two women, former human resource executives for a large company in Arkansas, came to own and operate one of the largest roofing companies in the Florida Keys — Keys All Area Roofing.
Dion Watson and Deborah Shirley met in 1989 and moved to the Keys in 2006. Dion started work at a local marina, and Deborah took a job in aviation service.
“But I could read the hand-writing on the wall, and this marina wasn’t doing too great,” said Dion. One of her boat-owning clients approached her with a strange job offer.
“He said ‘Let’s open a roofing office in the Keys.’ This friend already had one office in Tampa, and another one run by his daughter in Fort Pierce. I thought about it four months and then called him back and asked if it was a serious offer,” said Dion.
Dion said she warned her friend she wasn’t even good with a hammer and he told her not to worry, that it was easy.
“That was a lie,” Dion said.
“She went out and bought a hammer, a ladder and a measuring tape. I laughed,” said her partner, Deborah.
It’s no joke. Keys All Area Roofing has two offices-slash-warehouses: one in Marathon and one on Stock Island.
“I went down to Key West to buy the phone number for Tony’s Roofing that was closing,” Dion said.
“I didn’t hear from her four hours, and I got this bad feeling. I called her and asked, ‘What have you done?” Deb recalled.
“All I wanted was the phone number, and I ended up buying the whole company including materials. Deb asked me where I was going to put all that, and I said, ‘I don’t know. Now I gotta buy a building,” Dion said.
“There’s lots of jobs in the Keys, but not careers. I’m the type of person that wants to ‘own the store.’”
Before the storm, Keys All Area Roofing had five employees and a solid stream of business doing commercial and residential work. After the storm, the crew swelled to 70. That’s when Deb joined the business.
“We were driving back from Kissimmee a couple days after Hurricane Irma and the phone started ringing. I started taking messages on scraps of paper in the truck. By the time we got back to Marathon, we had 400 calls,” said Deb.
By the way, all but one of the Keys All Area Roofing roofs came through the storm with flying colors. Dion said she thinks it was compromised when a structural element on the roof was ripped off, most likely by a pocket tornado.
Before Irma, the company had completed about 500 roofs and repairs. In the months since, it’s done a whopping 372. Both agree that, so far, their favorite job was the First Congregational Church in Key West on Williams Street. The tall turrets required an 80-foot lift to replace the architectural metal shingles with a fish hook design.
“We are really blessed to work with a talented team,” Dion said.
Full name and nickname: Rhonda Dion Watson, a.k.a. Dion.
If you could be any character from a TV or movie, who would it be? James Bond.
If you could have lunch with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat? My mawmaw and her pinto beans, fried potatoes and cornbread.
Last movie you watched or book you read? “Venom” starring Tom Hardy.
Guilty pleasure? Singing karaoke at home.
Nerdiest passion? If you saw me singing karaoke at home, you would know.
Any brushes with death? So many. She does stupid stuff and I tag along. (Once they were night fishing on a boat anchored in the Arkansas River; a huge floating tree missed them by inches.)
What do you do in your spare time? I vaguely remember that I like to travel.
Finish these sentences …
Something most people don’t know about me … I was the1983 Junior National Billiards Champion.
My significant other would say I am … “the nice one.”
The title of my autobiography would be … “Let’s Do It; How Hard Could It Be?”
Full name and nickname: Deborah Shirley, a.k.a Deb.
If you could be any character from a TV or movie, who would it be? Dexter.
If you could have lunch with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat? My dad, George, and flaming cheese and Greek salad.
Last movie you watched or book you read? “Black Rust” by Bobby Adair.
Guilty pleasure? Gummi bears.
Nerdiest passion? Making ostrich egg jewelry boxes.
Any brushes with death? So many. A concrete post fell on my head and I had to learn to walk again.
What do you do in your spare time? Walk in the swamp and hang with gators.
Finish these sentences …
Something most people don’t know about me … I paint (Although this was revealed by Dion, not Deb.)
My significant other would say I am … “a control freak.”
The title of my autobiography would be … “Find a Way.”