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ECAT driver Willie Carter honored for 47 years of service

Willie Carter and his ECAT bus.jpg
Escambia County

A Pensacola man, who’s been serving Escambia County as a professional bus operator for 47 years, is being honored for his service.

Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) observed Black History Month by celebrating Willie Carter’s long tenure with a surprise ceremony and display of his image on one of its buses.

“He’s gonna tear up because he’s always so grateful for everything,” said Teresa Young, a three-year driver. “He’s gonna love that.”

Young was among those gathered outside ECAT’s Rosa L. Parks Transit Complex Tuesday in anticipation of Willie Carter’s arrival and his reaction. Upon seeing the bus with his image on it, he didn’t disappoint.

Willie Carter honored by ECAT

“Oh, oh man,” Carter exclaims, as his colleagues clap with joy. “Thank you Jesus for this beautiful day. Thank you, Jesus. In the name of the Lord, thank you so much. Amen. Amen.”

Carter moves in for a closer look at the specially-wrapped bus and continues to soak in the moment.

“They took me off the bus today. I thought I’d done something wrong, but I didn’t do nothing wrong,” he joked.

“I hope to be around for a while. I’m enjoying this. This is a big surprise to me in my life. I never thought of the day I would see something like this. Thank you, everybody, thank you so much.”

“This is our living legend right here. As I’ll tell anybody, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for individuals like Mr. Carter,” declared Rodrigues Kimbrough, interim transit director for ECAT and ceremony MC, sharing his personal connection.

Willie Carter receives trophy.jpg
ECAT's Rodrigues Kimbrough presents Willie Carter with a memento in honor of his 47 years of service, as colleague Angela Walden looks on.

“My mom was actually going to come because Mr. Carter was actually my mom’s bus driver. This is how I got to daycare. This is how I got to school, because of people like Mr. Carter. So, I want to make sure we’re able to celebrate Mr. Carter.”

Kimbrough gave credit for the acknowledgment of Carter to ECAT Customer Service Supervisor Angela Walden.

“Ms. Angela, she had this idea. She said, ‘Mr. Kimbrough, it’s African-American History Month, and we actually have a legend here on site. Our complex is called Rosa L. Parks Transit Complex. But, we have our own, our own black history icon here in our facility.’ And, I said, ‘You know what Ms. Angela, let’s make this happen.’”

“You have made a profound impact on my life, just for being who you are,” said Walden. She was one of several African-American ECAT staffers who spoke during the ceremony, giving respect to the man they called “Mr. Carter” and thanking him for helping to pave the way and serving as their mentor.

“If you need someone as an inspiration; 77 years old in April, correct,” Walden asked.

“That’s correct,” Carter replied.

“Forty-seven years-plus on the job; 40 years accident-free; first time being interviewed two weeks ago, correct,” she probed.

Local Transit Union Mike Lowry Shares Carter Story
Willie Carter is honored by his long-time friend and colleague Mike Lowery, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395.
Mike Lowery.jpg

“Right,” he agreed.

“This ain’t the last time, Mr. Carter,” she pledged.

Carter started driving for the Escambia County Transit Service in 1974, which makes him the senior man at ECAT by some 20 years. Walden and Kimbrough also did a bit of research to see where Carter ranks outside the local community.

ECAT Black History Bus.jpg
Escambia County FL CMR/PIO
For Black History Month, this ECAT bus was specially wrapped, with the image 47-year driver Willie Carter on one side and the images of African-American icons on the other.

“So, Mr. Carter, currently in the Florida Public Transit Association, all of the public transit systems in the state of Florida, you are number one when it comes to years of service,” Kimbrough said to applause.

Nationally, Kimbrough says he found one other individual who also has 47 years as a transit operator. He plans to verify their start dates to determine just who is number 1.

Over the past five decades, Carter has transported generations of families to all sorts of destinations. But, this is a job he still loves after all these years and he plans to keep it as long as he can.

“Just being able to do it at my age. I’ve been around a long time and I just can’t stop doing what I’m doing. I’m going to do it until the day the good Lord sends for me.”