Home builder and water advocate died Thursday after being pinned under tractor

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FARMINGTON — Robert Bruce Childers left behind a legacy of making people's dreams come true through building them quality custom homes, according to his son, Derrick Childers.

The 78-year-old Childers died Thursday after being pinned under his backhoe, which then fell off a cliff and dragged him with it, while working on landscaping on his property. 

He was a home builder and an advocate for getting his community clean water. Derrick Childers said his father loved working on backhoes and other equipment.

"When he was on a tractor, he forgot about everything else," Derrick Childers said.

More: Man pinned by tractor dies before both fall off cliff

His friend, Derald Polston, said Bruce Childers died doing what he loved to do.

"It's the way I'd want to go," Polston said. "He went out with his boots on."

Bruce Childers moved to Farmington in 1971 from North Carolina. While he had worked as an airplane mechanic in North Carolina, he began building houses along with his father-in-law after moving to Farmington.

Patsy Reynolds met Bruce Childers through the San Juan County Home Builders Association.

"He was always just a gentleman and an outstanding man," she said.

Childers was working with Reynolds on a remodel of a Harper Valley house that had been repossessed by a bank. They were scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

"When he didn't show up, we knew something was wrong," she said.

She said Childers will be remembered for his skill as a builder, as well as his integrity.

"He was one of the best builders this county has ever had," she said.

Childers also was known for his dedication to his community. He spent about a decade working with Polston to improve the quality of the water in his community. He lived in Crouch Mesa and received water from the AV Water Co. He got involved in the water-quality issue in 2008 when the New Mexico Environment Department began investigating the company. Polston and Childers founded the Crouch Mesa Ratepayers Association and dedicated their time and money to advocating for their community.

"He was just going to stay at it until it was made right," Polston said.

Polston said over the course of their efforts, the state attorney general told them "what went on may be wrong, but it may not be illegal."

"But the wrong didn't sit well with Bruce," Polston said.

Childers' goal was to help community members get control over the water. He favored the idea of residents forming mutual domestic water users associations to take over the troubled systems from AV Water. In February, he and Polston met with officials and worked on a plan to get the Harvest Gold community to form a mutual domestic.

Mirium Browning, a Harvest Gold resident, said Childers came to her house several times offering to help her family after a boil-water advisory was issued for the subdivision.

"He was a great man," she said. "He gave so much for us."

The elder Childers will be buried in North Carolina. Derrick Childers said people who want to honor his father's memory can donate water to the residents of Harvest Gold in his name. The donated water can be dropped off at McGee Park.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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