Painting foreman Robert Ferrell enjoys doing the kind of brush work that makes most people cringe: edges and windows.

“I’m a trim man, really,” he says. “I just love it.”

This month, Ferrell celebrates his 20th anniversary as an employee of H.J. Holtz & Son. He was hired by company president Rick Holtz, who refers to Ferrell as “family.”

“We have endured a lot together,” Holtz says. “We help each other.”

Ferrell concurs. “Rick and I have been friends since I came to the company,” he says, adding that their relationship “couldn’t be better.”

Last year, Ferrell missed nearly two months of work following a diagnosis of liver cancer. He says, there was “never any question” about his return to the company. “Rick called me [regularly] and paid me every week like I was working,” he said. “He’s nice to everyone; I could write you a book of the things he’s done.”

This spring, Ferrell arranged to take vacation time to avoid the early outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Given his cancer treatment and recovery last year, and with another underlying health condition, he felt it was prudent to avoid contact with others. But when he initially tried to return to work, Holtz asked him to reconsider.

“He told me to stay out two more weeks, until it was safer,” Ferrell says. “Rick is something else.”

A self-avowed “country boy” from Montpelier, Ferrell got his start at a painting company in Ashland. His wife, a Richmond native, wanted to live in the city, so his boss spoke with Holtz, and Ferrell switched companies.

Now a painting foreman, Ferrell will often train craftspeople in the Holtz way, which emphasizes attention to detail and genuine caring for the project at hand.

“You have to be patient with [new employees]; they have to learn,” he says. “We treat customers’ houses like our houses. We’ll walk their dog if we need to.”

Ferrell says he enjoys painting because it offers a combination of independent effort and teamwork.