Final ride blows bus driver away

Families from Thornhill lined the neighborhood's streets to say good-bye to their long-time school bus driver.

Families from Thornhill lined the neighborhood's streets to say good-bye to their long-time school bus driver.

Constantine Turner started driving a Fulton County school bus in 2000. But the sight that greeted him on his last day of work in December was unlike anything he’d encountered in his 21 years behind the wheel.

“I’ve had this route through Prestwick and Thornhill (neighborhoods) for 20 years,” said the 79-year-old. “Over the years, the middle schools changed, but the elementary was always Medlock Bridge. I didn’t want to change for the little kids; once the parents get to know you, it’s more familiar.”

Those parents and kids got to know Turner as more than a bus driver. He was the one who started the happy birthday chorus when he found out it was someone’s day. He stopped in front of houses to pick up kids in the rain rather than make them trudge to the bus stop. He had everyone singing away the first-day jitters and always remarked at how great they looked on picture day.

Parents and students, both past and present, turned out on his last day to thank the Jamaica-born Turner for his years of caring with an unexpected tribute.

“It started when the Prestwick people came out and gave me gifts; I didn’t expect things like that,” he said. “Then the Thornhill people put up a big sign on one of the lawns and lined up to wave.”

Kids and grown-ups held up signs of thanks all along the route. High schoolers who recalled riding with “Mr. Turner” cheered him.

“I’ve lived in Thornhill for over 20 years and not once have I seen the streets lined with masked children and adults, all with signs and gifts in their hands,” said Thornhill’s Irene Sanders. “In fact, during this pandemic year, we’ve made every effort to stay as far away from one another as possible, but not on this day. He has seen most of the kids in this neighborhood grow up and move on, and many came back or sent notes that were compiled into a book given to him recounting just how much his morning smile and wave good-bye meant to each one of them.”

It took a moment for Turner to recognize some of his former passengers. “Some are all grown, young adults now,” he said. “My head was reeling. It was so welcoming.”

Now that his driving days have ended, Turner intends to cherish those memories as he spends his early mornings and late afternoons working on “little projects. I’m going to do a little crafting.” It just might be a bit later than his old job’s start time of 6:10 a.m.

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