As One of Wellesley’s Master Plumbers, Leslie Pano ’77 Knows the College’s Inner Workings

A woman looks up at piping attached to a well.
March 15, 2019

Leslie Pano ’77 knows Wellesley well.

Growing up, she frequently came to reunions with her mother, a proud Wellesley alumna, and she has been on campus almost continually since she arrived as a student herself in 1973. As one of the College’s master plumbers, she has come to know it from the inside out, overseeing its systems of pipes and drains, plugging leaks, and keeping things flowing.

A native of Bannockburn, Ill., Pano moved East for college. Her father was from the Boston area and she still had family nearby, so the transition was easy. She majored in geology.

After graduation, Pano took a job as a cook in food service in 1977. In the late 1990s, while looking for a position with more regular hours, she got interested in plumbing. She enrolled in night school, and was grateful when she found a master plumber willing to give her a chance.

“There aren’t too many people who would want to take on an apprentice who would be available only on mornings, or one week day and one weekend day,” Pano says. “He worked around my full-time work schedule.”

Pano learned code and theory on days off from her work as a cook. She received her license in 2004. When an opening arose at the College to pursue her new skill set soon afterward, she applied and got the job.

Plumbers must navigate a mountain of regulation, which Pano hadn’t had to deal with in her previous occupation. “There’s a lot of code that you have to follow,” Pano says, “but we have a poster hanging in our shop that says, ‘Plumbers protect the health of the nation.’ That’s the primary responsibility of the plumber: to protect public health. That’s why the regulation exists.”

Learning all those codes was a big part of night school. But learning the inner workings of the College’s storied structures? “That is something I learned more through experience,” Pano says. “It’s much more challenging working with older structures than newer ones. When things go wrong, it’s that much more difficult to repair them.” 

Pano may be a Wellesley legacy, but as one of its master plumbers she is a pathbreaker. As of 2010, 1.5 percent of the country’s 553,000 plumbers, pipelayers, pipefitters, and steamfitters were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “I’ve never worked with a female plumber,” Pano says. “And when I was in school there was only one semester where there was another woman in my class.”

Why does she think such an imbalance exists in her trade? “I’m sure the opportunities aren’t there, for women,” Pano says. “I’m sure they’re not guided into that direction for the most part.”   

Pano has some plumbing-friendly tips for the Wellesley community. “Don’t put things down the drain that don’t belong down drains. Ever. No grease. No hair. No food.” Pano pauses. “Here, Green Hall is notorious. People drop their coffee in the water fountain. Please! Water only.”

She also has advice for aspiring plumbers: “It’s a really good trade to get into,” Pano says. “There’s a lot of heavy work. It can be physically demanding.” Pano laughs. “And [you need to] have a strong stomach!”

When she’s not snaking drains, Pano enjoys hiking, long-distance biking, and river kayaking. So far, she has summited the highest points of 40 states. Still on the list: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

“Those ones are pretty challenging,” Pano says. “But I’m working on it.”

Photo: Pano checks Wellesley's water supply. This daily test ensures that the College’s water, which comes from two on-campus wells, has the proper levels of chlorine and is safe for use.