45 years on the road and still rolling

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Mary Vaughan was terrified when she first got behind the wheel of a school bus. The fear quickly faded, and she knew she had found her calling. Forty-five years since that first turn behind the wheel, Vaughan is still grateful for every day she’s on the job, and she’s not turning in her keys anytime soon.

“I plan to work as long as I can. I love this job. I get up every morning and I put my feet on the floor, and I say, ‘Here we go,’” said Vaughan. “These children are what make me get up every morning. I love ‘em to death. They keep me going, and it just makes me so happy to get up and go.”

The opportunity to become a school bus driver came along at just the right time in her life.

“Forty-five years ago I had a child that had cancer, and we needed a job with insurance to help pay for the cancer treatments,” she remembered, noting that she could even bring her 3-year-old daughter along on the bus at the time. “With this job, I could work, and I could also have the time in between to care for my children.”

At the suggestion of a friend, and with a nudge from her stepfather who drove a MARTA bus for 35 years, she decided to give it a try. The friend said she would make the best bus driver in the world, and he just might’ve been correct.

After only a day-and-a-half of training, she was on the road by herself.

“I was terrified, but I got used to it,” she said, remembering an important bit of advice given to her by her trainer. “He said just sit back, relax, and remember you’ve got that responsibility sitting behind you. Pay attention to the road, and you’ll be fine.”

It didn’t take long before she felt right at home behind the wheel of a big yellow bus.

“I told myself if I can continue to do it, then I’ll do it. Then I fell in love with it, and I’ve been in love with it ever since,” she said. “Once you get behind that wheel and you get used to it, it becomes second-hand. My kids tell me I drive a bus better than I drive my car.”

Being a bus driver was a perfect fit for Vaughan, and she hopes other people understand what a blessing it can be.

“To me, it’s a great job, especially if you’re a retiree or you’re a housewife and you want something to do in between so you can be with your children when you need to be,” she said. “It’s a great job. A lot of people have a fear of it, but don’t be afraid of it.”

Far from when she was thrown behind the wheel when she first started out, new drivers are given a wealth of training. She speaks from experience, having been a trainer herself and a third-party tester for almost 30 years.

“They’re going to get a great deal of support really and truthfully,” she said, noting the culture is welcoming and one where veteran drivers are always eager to help their peers. “They train you very well here. We always took it one or two steps ahead (of requirements), and we always make sure when we teach someone we go over it with them over and over and make sure they understand all the parts and the maneuverability of that bus.”

It all comes down to putting the children on your bus first.

“You’ve just got to put it in your head that I’ve got this under control. What I carry on this bus is my responsibility, and I need to learn to keep this bus under control.”

You do the job because you want to make a difference. It’s about loving children and loving being out in the public and showing them you care.

“Our job means more to us than anything. I feel that I am a second mother to them. I am a nurse maid, and I’m also their teacher,” she said. “It’s a traveling classroom, and it’s my job to teach them how to behave on the bus and if they have a problem, we can talk to them.

“I love my kids like they’re my own.”

Vaughan has become a staple in the school community. She currently drives routes for Peachtree City Elementary, J.C. Booth Middle, and McIntosh High, and she’s been driving for those schools since each of them opened.

“I still drive in a neighborhood where I saw the children grow up,” she said. “I’ve seen them go from little kids to working in different businesses.”

Vaughan recounted running into an adult who was once a child on her bus. He said he used to act up and fuss at Mary many years ago, but he appreciated her.

“He said, ‘You know what? We loved you,’ and I said, ‘You know what? I loved y’all,’” Vaughan said. “I get to meet a lot of children that come up to me in the grocery store or I’m just out and they’ll ask when are you ever going to retire. I say you’ll find it in the newspaper, I guess.”

Vaughan was recently honored by the Board of Education with a pin commemorating her 45 years of service, the first time they’ve given one out for that kind of longevity. She had a quick question for the Board.

“Do you have a 50-year pin yet?”

Mary Vaughan just completed her 45th year as a bus driver for Fayette County Public Schools, and she has no plans to slow down.