Deborah Peay really doesn’t know why she became a school bus driver in 1986. But it was a decent job, and it turned out to be fun, so she stayed.
Thirty years later, talking about leaving the kids and parents on her Myers Park route brings her to tears.
“It has been a journey,” she said. “I’m blessed, I’m thankful, and people have shown me so much love, and you don’t get that all the time.”
Her journey comes to an end Thursday afternoon, when she brings students home for the last time.
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If people don’t want to say good morning, say good morning anyway.
Going the extra mile
After dropping off the kids at school Wednesday morning, Peay was on her way to Sam’s Club for supplies for 50 end-of-the-year goody bags to give them on the way home.
She has done the same thing at Halloween, Christmas and Easter.
“Parents say, ‘You don’t have to do that,’” she said. “But the kids really remember it.”
Third-grader Stephen Thrasher will also remember Peay’s fairness and thoughtfulness.
“She’s very nice and she always settles arguments well,” he said.
Recently, he said, someone dropped a cup of yogurt on the bus. Then someone else kicked it, spilling its contents across the bus floor.
“Ms. Deborah told the person who dropped it to clean up one-fourth and the person who kicked it to clean up three-fourths,” Stephen said.
Another day, a bird flew in a top window at the back of the bus, crashed and died. Peay pulled over to sweep the bird all the way to the front and place it outside.
On Tuesday, the kids on her route surprised her with hand-drawn signs posted along the street, saying, “Best bus driver ever” and “Thank you Ms. Deborah!”
When Peay saw them, she said she started crying and got out at the bus stop to take a picture, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hold her cellphone.
“They always tell me they love me, but yesterday, I saw it,” Peay said.
A friendly face
The parents on her route will miss Peay as well.
“She’s just so, so kind,” Stephen’s mother Alicia Thrasher said. “Always has a great attitude, always on time.”
If a child who is usually in school isn’t outside at the bus stop, she’ll honk and wait, Thrasher said. If she sees a child walking sadly to the bus, she’ll joke with them until she sees a smile.
“I’ve seen it more than once – kids have a tough morning, she turns it around before they even take their seat,” Thrasher said.
Peay remembers every child’s name, and with 50 kids on the bus, it’s not easy, she said. But she works hard to remember and assigns their seats intentionally – siblings go together, and younger kids go up front, closer to her.
At the beginning of the school year, she said, there are a lot of kids who have never ridden a bus before and are nervous, so she’ll give them a hug and tell them they’ll be fine.
Though Peay, 60, will miss her job, she’s excited for retirement and no longer waking up at 4:30 a.m. She plans to spend more time with her family.
She’s also looking forward to an October cruise to the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Her advice to other bus drivers?
“One word: be respectful,” she said. “If people don’t want to say good morning, say good morning anyway.”
Rachel Herzog: 704-358-5358; @rachel_herzog