Roy Dye Sr., 81, was six years old the first time he ever stepped up onto Rutherford County bus No. 30.
Seventy-five years later, much has changed.
Back in the 1940s and ’50s, the late Elwin Maddox drove the route with a paddle that sat within arms-reach of the driver’s seat. Yet, Dye — whose daddy paddled him enough that he made sure to behave himself on the bus — remembered Maddox as a nice man during the week who attended the same church as the Dye family on Sunday mornings.
Nowadays, Dye has the same route and the same bus number he rode as a student.
Dye has been driving a bus in the county for 59 years and this coming fall will mark 60 years — the longest stint of any driver in the history of Rutherford County Schools.
“Well, I haven’t had no problems,” said Dye, “so if you don’t have a problem, you better stick with something.”
He stuck with it all right.
The Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation has announced that Dye will be inducted into the Tennessee School Bus Driver Hall of Fame.
Dye is one of three inductees.
Each year, the TAPT inducts one driver from each of the three regions — East, Middle, West — in the state.
Dye is the first driver from Rutherford County to ever be inducted into the hall of fame and the first independent contractor in the state’s history to be inducted.
The hall of fame was created to recognize and honor Tennessee school bus drivers who have made outstanding contributions to their local school transportation department and who, by virtue of those contributions, are among the industry’s most resolute individuals, according to a release from TAPT.
“He’s very humble about it and very appreciative of the honor,” his wife Margaret Williams said, “I can say that he’s —”
“I am very thankful,” Dye interrupted.
“Very thankful they would even consider an old man like me,” he then joked, before continuing, “Well, I have thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoyed it and we have a good administration that really cared about us and show us they care.”
Just do not ask how much longer he intends to continue.
“Maybe I’ll get my route run this evening,” Dye deadpanned before later adding, “ ’Til the good Lord calls me home brother. ’Til the good Lord calls me home. … When you’re 81 years old and still pass the physical and enjoy what you’re doing, you better keep on doing it.”
Nominees for the hall of fame must have completed a minimum of 45 years of uninterrupted employment as a daily bus route driver with the school district.
Dye was hired in 1962.
At the time, J.J. McWilliams was the high school principal for Rutherford County, David Youree was the primary school principal and Dye initially drove a route for the old Smyrna “Rock” School. His route currently includes Blackman Middle and the newly opened Rockvale High School.
What separates Dye from so many others in the community — besides his length of service — are the three trips he made to Africa and three buses he donated to local churches and ministries.
He traveled to Africa in the mid-1970s to help with operating a dozer to clear trees and make room for an 80-acre manmade lake that provided a village with its first and only source of clean water.
His first trip was for two months. He returned twice more for a month each time.
“I enjoy doing things for people (who are) far less fortunate than we are,” Dye recalled. “All they had was a grass shanty to live in and they didn’t have any water supplies.
“They needed somebody to get down trees and I was the one the good Lord sent to get them down. … I think that was the reason that the good Lord gave me the ability and the knowledge to run a dozer, that He was preparing me to go over there and do the things that I did for those people.
Dye continued, “And I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed being an old dumb bus driver.”
Truth be told, like his father, Lloyd Elroy Dye, the younger Dye — not often, at 81, he’s referred to as the younger anything — grows tomatoes, and on Saturdays, he sells them at the farmers market on The Square in downtown Murfreesboro.
He also passes them out to the transportation staff at the Central Office.
“When the first vegetables are in, he’ll usually take some up there and shares them,” said Williams, who described him as a grandfather-figure. “He’s thought of pretty good.”
“I’ve had a good life and I’m ready to go any day the good Lord calls me,” said Dye, who again quickly follows Williams before joking, “When you come by my casket and pay your respects, I will wink at you.
“I’m going to have my eyes fixed where, when a good-looking woman comes by my casket, Margaret, who is my wife, she can touch a button and my eye will wink. … The ones that don’t laugh will be running. It’ll be a first. Like I say, I’ve had a good life. It’s been exciting. Every day is a different day. It’s never been the same … and, I guess, that’s what keeps me interested in it.”