Robert Brooks told the Rogersville Review in a 2016 interview that if he hadn’t gotten sick in the fall of 1958, he might never have driven a school bus at all.
“I had a sore throat, and I went to Dr. Connor Lyons to get a shot,” Brooks recalled. “He was a school board member, and back then the school board members hired you (to drive school buses among other school jobs). Dr. Lyons told me he wanted me to drive. I told him I didn’t want to drive, and we argued about it for about two hours. Finally, I told him I would try it for five days and if I didn’t like it, I would bring the bus back.”
Dr. Lyons, who died in 1966, also was Mayor of Surgoinsville in addition to being a physician and a school board member.
Brooks apparently liked driving, because he drove that 1956 Ford 60-passenger school bus until the Hawkins County School System gave him a newer bus several years later. And he kept driving, going through six buses over the years.
He was 22 years of age when he began driving a school bus in Surgoinsville on Nov. 5, 1958. He finished his driving career behind the wheel of a 2008 Blue Bird.
When he retired in 2016, he was 80 years old but still as spry as ever—the longtime farmer even told the Review at the time that he still mowed and baled 60 acres of hay each year.
He had served as a Hawkins Co. bus driver for 57 years and six months. Rob was even inducted into the School Bus Hall of Fame in Nashville and holds the state record for driving a school bus.
Why did he keep driving? Brooks said back in 2016 that the answer is simple: “I like children.”
Brooks left behind a wonderful legacy
Brooks passed away on Christmas day of 2019 at the age of 84 and left many happy memories with those who knew him.
On the morning that Brooks was laid to rest, that very same 2008 Blue Bird, Hawkins Co. bus number 89, carried Brooks’ wife of 49 years and other family members to the graveside service.
At the BOE meeting, Director of Schools Matt Hixson read the following email he had received from staff member Karen Beggs regarding Brooks:
“I started working in Hawkins County in January of 1993 and was new to the area. One of the first faces I met was a bus driver by the name of Rob Brooks. Over the years he was a constant hello and goodbye wave as I moved past. I moved to the road he lived on about five years after our first meeting.
In a time before cell phones, mass callouts or the internet, he was my snow-day man. I would watch the local news until the last possible second and then start out to school. Many mornings, there would be a lone figure at the end of my road.
I would hear, ‘Teacher lady, no school. Go back home.’
Once he would hear the news of no school on his CB, he would turn off his bus and wait. He was waiting to catch me just in case I didn’t know. He continued to do this for well over a decade.
Rob had driven a bus for the county for over 57 years before he retired and holds the state record. He was very proud to have hauled nearly three—if not four—generations of Hawkins Co. students before he retired… He was a very good man.”