On the road again

Published 1:18 pm Saturday, September 3, 2016

Come bright and early Tuesday morning, school buses in Western Tidewater will be picking up and dropping students for their first day of the classes.

In Franklin, drivers such as Catherine Jordan are ready to roll.

“I like my job,” she said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Now in her 10th year of driving — the first three were as a substitute — said she came to the work after having been a convenience store manager for 16 years. After retiring from there, Jordan saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a bus driver’s license. Figuring it was “something to do,” she went to Roanoke-Chowan College to apply.

Jordan, who drives Bus No. 6, acknowledged that the money has been another factor in staying, especially when she began full-time driving six years ago.

All that time is not without incident. She remembered an accident just last year when a driver tried to pass the bus regardless that the stop sign was in view. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

“I’ve seen some kids grow up,” said Jordan, who added that a few times she’s received tokens of appreciation. “For a long time I never knew how they felt.”

Lawrence Whiting, the coordinator of Operations for Franklin City Public Schools, said that drivers such as her will sometimes be greeted by students five, 10 or 20 years later, who remember them.

On the other hand, Jordan and others recall them better when they were children and stood only yay-high.

Of course she’s not alone in her concern for the students. Whiting, her supervisor, also helps carry that responsibility.

“Right now for the first time we have the correct number of full-time bus drivers, and a couple of subs,” said Whiting. “We only have 12 buses that roll on a daily basis.”

He suggests parents as well as bus drivers sign on to the website www.spotmybus.com, which allows them to track the school buses.


Like mother, like daughter.

“My mom drove a bus,” said Ruth Burch, who has been driving a school bus for 20 years. After graduating from Southampton High School in 1975, she worked with her and a family business — Beale’s Burger House in Ivor.

When that ended, and her son was starting in school, Burch got to thinking that driving a school bus herself “ would be a good thing for me to do. When he graduated, I thought about quitting, but I staying on.”

Although the title of Transportation Coordinator was only recently bestowed, Burch said she’s been handling the responsibilities for about 14 years.

She credits W.F. Grizzard Jr., who was director of operations at the time, who had approached her about the work.

“I said yes,” said Burch.

Asked about how the transportation needs, she said, “There’s always a demand for safe transportation. That never changes. What has changed is the lack of school bus drivers, that’s dramatically changed. Low pay and a fear of driving a vehicle that size with all those lives in your hands. It takes a special person to be able to handle that. It’s precious cargo.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Burch and a mechanic will be driving a route. There are still two contract positions needed now for school buses. If you’re interested and qualified, contact her at 653-2692, option 3.

She’s no exception when it comes having had incidents in her professional driving career.

“I’ve had several close calls,” Burch acknowledged, remembering one from the 1990s that involved three tractor-trailers on Route 460. Close observation and quick thinking compelled her to shout to students at a bus stop to run away as one of the vehicles looked like it was going to hit the bus. Burch sped away with some students already on board. One of the vehicles jackknifed. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Though she doesn’t recall the year, Burch did remember it was the 13th of February and there were 13 students on board.

“I got myself together and completed the route,” she said. “There weren’t any nightmares, but I didn’t sleep well. I thanked the Lord above for letting me put the pedal to the metal and I took off!”

None of her young passengers ever gave her trouble worth remembering.

“They were all respectful to me because I was respectful to them,” said Burch, who added that many have approached her years later saying, “You were my bus driver.”

She needs a little jostling of memory when that happens.

“There were no favorites,” Burch said. “They were all my babies. They were all treated equally.”