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Honoring a fallen brother… Carter County bus drivers gather in memorial for Harper

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
Bus drivers often get a bad rap due to the fact they have to be a driver, sheriff, and parent all at one time while performing their duties.

After all, they have one of the most important jobs of all in making sure that when a parent or guardian places their child in their care, they have to ensure that the child gets to and from school safely on a daily basis.

These drivers also form a brotherhood amongst themselves as they often are the ones that understand the nuance of the job and the respect, friendship, and love that create another family unit away from home.

This brotherhood was never more evident than on Sunday afternoon as more than 16 Carter County school buses lined up on both sides at the end of West G Street close to Malfunction Junction to honor one of their fallen as they formed a memorial for the funeral possession of David Eugene “Gene” Harper.

Harper had driven for several years after retiring from the Elizabethton Electric System running a Happy Valley route. He had retired last year from driving and when news came of his passing early last week, the Carter County bus brotherhood came together on Sunday to remember their fellow driver and friend.

Many people passing by weren’t sure what to think of all the yellow buses that were lining the streets with flashing lights, the crossing bar extended, and the stop sign engaged.

Vehicles slowed asking what was going on as some thought the drivers were going on strike but once the memorial was shared it was clear there was a deeper appreciation of the event.

“This is something that we like to do to honor bus drivers that have been here for a long time — it’s our way of remembering them as the family comes through,” said Missy Ward, Carter County Schools Transportation Safety Coordinator.

“His bus here is the very first one so it will be the one they see first as they come through. We have done this several times and the families really appreciate it and it’s touching to them and for us because it’s our way of saying goodbye.”

As Harper’s procession passed through, the drivers stood in reverence to the family, many with either their hat or their hands over their hearts as the full possession passed by.

A small hand and face of a woman, possibly the widow of Harper, was spotted waving at the gathering as the hearse carrying Harper and the rest of the funeral possession continued to weave its way across the intersection and up the hill to Happy Valley Memorial Park — the final resting place for Harper.

Carter County Director of Transportation Wayne Sams said that they have tried to remember departed bus drivers for at least the past 15 to 18 years saying, “When that family comes through it’s a pretty cool feeling.

“The first time we did this, we were lined here and everybody kept honking their horns because they thought we were on strike. Me and Missy have said that as long as we are here, we will continue to do this.”

Sams said in talking with some of the drivers who had come out on this beautiful Sunday afternoon if they were going to do the same thing for them.

“Absolutely,” was Sams response.

Ward stated that just the turnout showed just how special the bus driving family was for the Carter County School System.

“On their day off and especially a Sunday, and yet this many people come out to honor him, that says a lot about the man,” added Ward.

“I can’t name one person that drives for us or works with us that is not considered family and we try to make it that way from day one. When you come in, you are as loved when you come in as when you go out.”