Septuagenarian James Bryant began driving a school bus for Bedford County (Va.) Public Schools in September 1959. He has continued driving routes, without pause, for the past 54 years, even as he worked at a steel mill and freelanced as a plumber.
Bryant said he held down three jobs at a time to support his family of five. Simple as that.
“I think his work ethic is outstanding, and he’s always there to help his fellow drivers. He pitches in if we have a bus break down. He’s on that radio and pitching in whenever he can,” said Patricia Whorley, who has been transportation supervisor for four years and worked with Bryan since 1986, when she came aboard as secretary. “I’ll probably retire before he does.”
At 75 years of age, Bryant is in the physical shape of someone half his age and shows no sign of stopping, she added. He has been featured recently in the local media because of his tenure and because he is well loved in the community.
“I’m just glad he is getting this recognition,” Whorley said. “He is one of those drivers who loves what he does. He has an energy that is boundless and his enthusiasm for students is unbelievable after all these years.”
Bryant is quick to deflect such praise, preferring to express his gratitude for the job and the students he serves.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a nice bunch of kids. I never had any problems and never had to kick a child off the bus,” he recalled, adding that he has issued two referrals and had one accident in 54 years that was not his fault.
But one particular disciplinary action came back to him because it involved the son of a sheriff’s deputy. One day, the elementary student boarded Bryant’s school bus and “told me where to go,” Bryant said. He couldn’t let the boy get away with it so he suspended him for a couple of days. The next day, when Bryant pulled up to his bus stop, the boy was waiting there with his father. He told the deputy his son was not permitted to ride the bus — and why. After that, the boy returned to the bus and never caused another problem.
“I don’t scold children. I have respect for them and they have respect for me,” Bryant said. “When I get on the bus, I take time to let the children know my name and what I stand for. I tell them the safety rules of this bus and that they have to go by the rules to ride. I’m just positive with them.”
Whorley noted that Bryant’s “wonderful rapport” with his students extends to their parents as well.
“I can’t remember any time I’ve heard of a problem on his bus. The students give him respect and he does the same. He is fair and consistent across the board,” she said. “He’s been at it so long, and he’s very active in the community so he knows the parents. If there is ever an issue, he talks to the parents and everyone works together to resolve things.”
She noted that driving a school became “a family thing” for Bryant after the department recruited his wife to become a driver. She needed a job once their three children were grown, and they happened to be hiring.
Bryant said his wife drove for nearly three decades yet decided to retire three years ago. He also pointed out that he transported his own children and grandchildren as well. In addition, his youngest brother has been driving a school bus since he retired.
“My wife drove for 28 years. I taught her how to drive a school bus. She worked at the school cafeteria, and I worked there 10 years, cooking. I’ve just been working, working, working,” he shared. “It’s been a joy driving the bus … but I have to give the credit to God because He has been so good to me in all those years of driving.”