Cobb bus driver who died of COVID complications was known for tutoring

Ricardo Irizarry, a Cobb bus driver was known for tutoring. He died of Covid. Contributed

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Ricardo Irizarry, a Cobb bus driver was known for tutoring. He died of Covid. Contributed

After Ricardo Irizarry finished driving his afternoon routes in a yellow Cobb County school bus, he often returned to Barber Middle School in Acworth to read to students who stayed after for tutoring.

Irizarry died last month of complications from COVID-19, said his daughter, Jessica Heard. He was 73.

“At the end of the day, he gave himself fully to what he believed in, and he believed in all of these children,” said Heard, 33, through tears. “He got up every day because those kids were his big why.”

Irizarry was a Cobb County School District bus driver for almost a decade, a district spokesperson said.

“Our hearts go out to Ricardo Irizarry’s family and all those who knew him and his dedication to Cobb students,” the school district said in a statement. “His loss will be greatly felt in the Cobb Schools community.”

Irizarry was hospitalized Aug. 18, in the third week of school. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia, which caused multiple strokes, Heard said. He died Oct. 4 at the Douglasville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Heard said she believes her father, who was not vaccinated, caught the virus from driving the bus or volunteering.

“Outside of work, he didn’t go a lot of places and he was selective of who he surrounded himself with,” Heard said.

Before the school year began, Irizarry talked to Heard about going back to work despite the risks and uncertainties of COVID-19 and the school district’s shifting protocols.

“He died doing what he loved to do,” Heard said. “It was something I believe he felt was worth giving his life to, and that’s a tremendous part of his legacy that we’re very proud of.”

Irizarry lived in Acworth. Besides Heard, he is survived by daughter Sharlene Rogers and another adult daughter who lives in Gwinnett County. He had seven grandchildren and five siblings.

Born and raised in The Bronx, he was a devoted New York Yankees fan but thought the Braves deserved to win the World Series once his team was out of the picture, Heard said.

“That would have been something he would have loved to see and he would have celebrated,” she said.

He spent time in his family’s native Puerto Rico before becoming a police officer in Massachusetts, his daughter said. He moved around the Northeast and served in the Navy for less than five years, leaving when he broke his leg, Heard said.

He became a truck driver and then a route manager for Waste Management, his daughter said. After earning a commercial driver’s license, he drove buses for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and then Cobb schools, she said. His Chevrolet Impala was his pride and joy, she said.

Irizarry loved to sing and he played the conga drums at church, Heard said. She believes Cobb transportation supervisors assigned him some routes with difficult children because of his background as a police and corrections officer.

“If anything he said or did failed, he would sing them a song,” she said. “That seemed to change the direction of anyone’s day.”

His peers two years ago nominated him for the school district’s Classified Employee of the Year award. North Cobb High School held a moment of silence for him at a football game the Friday after his death, Heard said.

His family is in discussions with the school district to create a scholarship in his name, she said.

“He’s definitely a part of the community in Cobb that will be missed,” she said.