TN School Bus Driver Hall of Fame Member Robert Brooks

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County school bus driver Robert Brooks already holds the Tennessee record for driving a school bus longer than anyone else in state history with nearly 56 years and counting. This year, however, Brooks has achieved his profession's highest honor. Brooks, 78, was chosen in June to be the third annual inductee into the Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation's (TAPT) "School Bus Driver Hall of Fame."In 2010 Brooks broke the state record of driving a school bus for 52 consecutive years, and on his anniversary this coming Nov. 8 that record will reach 56 years. Tuesday evening Brooks was honored by the Hawkins County Board of Education for being inducted into the School Bus Driver Hall of Fame. Director of Schools Steve Starnes presented Brooks with a certificate that states, "Robert Brooks is awarded this certificate in recognition of being inducted into the state Bus Driver Hall of Fame, and for 56 years of dedicated service to the Hawkins County School System."Hawkins County transportation director Sarah Floyd told the Times-News Wednesday that Brooks has driven the same route to both Surgoinsville schools and Volunteer High School for 36 of his 56 years. "He's probably hauling the grandchildren of students that he hauled the first year he started on that route," Floyd said. "Undoubtedly many of the children he hauled when he started 56 years ago are now collecting Social Security."In 1958 Brooks caught strep throat, and went to see Surgoinsville physician Dr. Conner Lyons, who was also on the school board at that time. While treating Brooks' throat Dr. Lyons asked Brooks to take over a Surgoinsville schools bus route because the previous driver had quit. "He went and got a chauffeur's license and told Dr. Lyons he'd try it for a week and see how it goes," Floyd said. "It'll be 56 years in November and he's still driving. Every year I'll say, Rob, are you coming back next year. He'll say, 'Sarah, I'll do it one more year'. He's been telling me that for several years."Floyd added, "He's hauled a lot of generations. I'll say, 'Rob, you never turn in any conduct slips into the school'. He'll say, 'Sarah, if I have any trouble with them kids I either call their mommas or I call their grandmas, and they take care of it'." Brooks has lived on the same farm on Country Lane off of Fudges Chapel Road since 1941. When he was a student he walked about a half mile each way to a little country school every day, whether it was raining, snowing or in blistering heat."Kids these days don't realize how easy they got it," Brooks told the Times-News in 2010. "The bus pulls right up in the driveway to get them, and then brings them back to the driveway and lets them off. We had to walk when I went to school. The old country school I went to was probably about 2,000 feet from my house, but there's kids who walked for eight miles to come to that school." Brooks doesn't share that story with the students he drives to school, however. "They don't care," he added.He averaged about 20,000 miles per year his first 12 years, and has averaged about 10,000 miles per year since then. By his reckoning, Brooks has driven about 680,000 miles in a school bus over the past 56 years. That's like driving to the moon and back, and more than halfway to the moon again. He may complete that second trip to the moon before he's done. He said it all depends on his health. "I guess I like kids, and that's the reason I'm still driving a bus," Brooks said in 2010. "I've hauled four generations of kids to school. I think we’re making about $43 and a quarter a day, so I'm not doing it for the money. You couldn't live on what they pay us."TAPT executive director Larry Riggsbee said Hall of Fame nominees are made by individual school districts and one is selected each year by a selection committee. Brooks was the one selection this year out of 21 nominees considered. In June Brooks was invited to the TAPT Annual Conference in Pigeon Forge. Brooks had the option of spending three nights in Pigeon Forge for free. Riggsbee said Brooks said he couldn't spend the night because he is a farmer and he had to get back and take care of his farm. Brooks did attend a dinner on the last night of the conference however, and was awarded a jacket and a certificate.This November, Robert Brooks will have driven a school bus in Hawkins County for 56 years, the last 36 on the same route. “I like kids and I just stayed with it. I’ve always farmed and this was a side job. It’s still a side job,” said Brooks, who transports students to Surgoinsville Elementary, Surgoinsville Middle and Volunteer High School. “I haul 130 kids a day, two loads.”At a meeting of the Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation this summer in Pigeon Forge, Brooks, who set a record in 2010 for 52 years of consecutive driving, became the second person to be inducted into the State of Tennessee Bus Driver Hall of Fame.“This is the second year one has been chosen,” said Director of Transportation Sarah Floyd, who nominated Brooks. “They presented him with a plaque and a nice jacket with his name embroidered, with the number of years of service with the state. “He’s a character. We enjoy him,” Floyd said. “Things have certainly changed in his 36 years.”“This year I picked up a third generation of kids,” said Brooks, 78. “Kids I’m hauling now I’ve hauled their daddies, mamas and grandmas to school.” Do they look the same? Act the same?“They don’t act the same,” Brooks said. “Kids used to mind. They won’t mind no more. They get worse every year. They got dirty mouths now. They can’t say nothing unless they’re saying a dirty word before they say it. And the girls are worse than the boys. That’s what hurts me. Used to, girls wouldn’t say a dirty word. They’re worse than the boys on the buses.” Nowhere are changes in society more evident than on school buses, where Brooks has borne witness for more than half a century.“They’re just getting meaner every year,” he said. “Kids ain’t got no respect for nobody anymore, not even themselves. That’s what gets me. They ain’t made to mind at home. You can tell the kids where their parents makes them mind. You sure can.”