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AFTER almost 44 years of driving buses in Canberra, 69-year-old Terry Lees retires this week.
He started with Action in 1972, working out of the then Kingston bus depot.
At the time, his wife Pauline was expecting their second daughter and Terry thought he would drive the buses for only a couple of years, before moving back to the country where he had grown up.
“I used to do a run that went close to our house in Higgins. We had a plan that if Pauline was going into labour she would leave the back light on so I knew to get home quickly! But luckily it didn’t happen that way,” says Terry.
Terry says he got into the swing of driving buses and thoroughly enjoyed it, and with five children to support, his work and home life were busy and rewarding.
As the years went by Terry says the original plan of moving to the country just didn’t eventuate as they settled into family life and bought their house in Higgins where he and Pauline still live.
“There haven’t been too many days where I didn’t want to go to work,” says Terry.
“For me, it was all about the interaction with people. I particularly enjoyed taking the lovely older people who lived in the older, northern suburbs of Watson and Hackett into the city,” he says.
“One of my regular passengers in Latham once said to me: ‘Terry, you have carted three generations of my family!’ I got to see them have kids and now grandkids.”
Although Terry admits he’s seen some funny things during his time, and lots of not-so-funny incidents involving drunk passengers, he says his fondest memory was taking a group of indigenous children home from Forrest Primary School each day. Terry says that they were a very rowdy group.
“At the end of the run, an elder would come and ask me if any of the children had played up. Over time I struck up an agreement with her and got to know the kids,” he says.
When it was time for Terry to change shifts, on his last school pick up he was welcomed into the terminal by 15 families who had lined up to say farewell and thanks to him.
Terry says Canberra was a very different place when he first started: “The end of the run was the end of Belconnen Way – there was nothing west of that, no Higgins, Holt or Macgregor,” he says.
“Patronage-wise I think things have changed, too. I used to have lots of young mothers with young children, especially during the off-peak times. We always used to get out and help the ladies get their prams into the bus.
“Nowadays, with the changes with the laws and regulations, the driver and passenger relationship has changed.”
Terry says his enjoyment in getting to know his passengers meant that he always made sure he picked his regulars up, even if it meant sometimes running slightly behind schedule.
“Running late didn’t concern me too much. Safety and service to the passengers was always my priority. If you give people a rough ride they are not likely to catch your bus again,” he says.
And retirement? Terry’s most looking forward to spoiling his 13 grandkids and, of course, travelling.