The drive of Judy Brown

By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent

Her alarm clock went off on time.

But it didn’t matter.

She missed the bus anyway.

It was the beginning of the school year 1975, and Nancy Maloof Winn was starting her freshman year at Westwood High School.

She grew up over by the railroad station on Juniper Ridge Road, about a 4½-mile walk to the high school.

Too far to walk, so she rode the bus.

But more often than not, she missed it.

And every time she was saved — by Judy Brown.

In 1975, Brown was starting her eighth year driving a bus for the Westwood Public Schools, and at the time, her route was the Martha Jones Elementary and Thurston Middle schools.

She was lucky, Winn recalled, that Brown lived nearby. Every time Winn missed her bus, she’d head for Brown’s house, hoping she was back from her first driving shift.

“I would knock on her door and every time she’d greet me with a warm smile, a cheerful good morning — and a cup of coffee,” Winn said.

“She was the kindest most caring person, who always went above and beyond.”

Winn would go with Brown to Martha Jones, where she dropped the younger kids off. Then Brown would loop around to the end of Milk Street, a stone’s throw from the high school, and let Winn off.

“She always made sure I got to school,” Winn said. “I was a little late, but if I had to walk the distance from the other side of town, I would have been much later.

“Mrs. Brown always saved me.”

Winn is just one of thousands of Westwood students who revered this beloved school bus driver.

“We in Westwood are very fortunate to have Judy as a bus driver,” Winn said. “She’s one of the kindest and thoughtful persons … wonderful to have a nice conversation with. Just a very good person.”

A Day in the Life of Judy Brown

In 2013, after 46 years, Brown left her driving job, soon after her husband died.

Last year, she came back, ferrying kids who attend Thurston Middle and Downey Elementary schools.

Her day usually begins by 5:30. But if she’s tired, she might hook the alarm and get up at 6.

She feeds her three dogs, lets them out and showers. She’s at work by 6:45 a.m. and back home by 8:50 a.m. She does it again in the afternoon for another two hours.

She drives to the school parking lot where the buses are lined up. She has a cup of coffee and starts the bus. She lets it run while she does a walk-around to make sure all’s okay.

Then she’s ready to start her run.

“I like to get the kids on the bus in the morning because I feel it gives them a good start to their day,” Brown said. “I want them to be ‘up.’ When they get up, it’d be, ‘Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.’

“It’s the first thing they see when they leave the house. And if they get this good feeling when they get off, then their day will be good.”

All in the Westwood Family

Brown knows all about the life of a student riding the bus. Back in the day she was one, too.

Her legal name is Helen Judith (Cragg) Brown. But everybody calls her Judy.

She was born July 7, 1943, and has lived in Westwood since she was three.

She was 13 when she first rode the bus as a freshman at Westwood High — the old school with the big glass dome.

“It was gorgeous,” she said. “Dickie Sansone was my bus driver and I don’t think he was much older than me at the time.

“I lived on Islington and it was three miles to school. We lived at Willard Circle and the bus picked me up right at the end of the street.”

On the way, she added, they picked up Eddie Brown near the golf course. He was her high school sweetheart.

They married on April 15, 1961, and raised two children, Bonnie and Edward, Jr., now adults. Both attended Westwood Public Schools.

The Brown family has a strong connection to Westwood.

Edward served on the Westwood police force for seven years before joining the Westwood Fire Department. Eddie Jr. is also a firefighter in town.

Granddaughters Courtney-Lee, Annie, Abbie and Mollie attended Westwood schools. Annie, the second oldest, teaches at Sheehan School and is married to a Norwood firefighter.

Great-grandsons Jackson Edward and Cameron Salvator attend Hanlon School.

Brown’s daughter-in-law is a nurse at Sheehan School and her sister-in-law was secretary to the superintendent of Westwood Public Schools before retiring last year.

Her husband died from lung disease on July 2, 2013, at 71. In the 1960s, firefighters seldom wore face masks and were exposed to smoke and other toxic gases and chemicals.

Edward Brown is one of hundreds of firefighters whose name appears on the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It Started from a Pool in the Back Yard

Even though she became one of Westwood’s longest-tenured bus drivers, Judy Brown never intended to be one.

“I wanted a pool in the back yard,” she said. “And my husband said, ‘If you want a pool, then you pay for it.’

“And I did.”

She and her husband were good friends with the coordinator for the buses. At the start of the 1967 school year, she was behind the wheel, driving kids to Martha Jones School.

Daughter Bonnie was already in school; Eddie, Jr. was only two.

“It was a time where you could take your kids with you, and be home for your older kids when they got home,” Brown said.

“My son would sit right beside me. I packed his breakfast in a little lunch box and he’d sit there by the window while I drove around.”

Her first week wasn’t so easy.

“I thought I was going to throw up,” she recalled. “I was a nervous wreck.

“You had to stop perfect. You had to keep the door open and not catch them in the door.

“There was no power steering … only stick shift. It was an old clunker back then and tough to drive, having to turn around up on Canton Street and University Avenue.”

After a week she was over her nervousness.

“Today, it’s like, ‘whish,’ forget it,” she said. “I could drive anywhere.”

For the first six months, Brown was driving without a valid school bus license.

She says she remembers her husband, a police officer at the time, nearly had a nervous breakdown and hoping she wouldn’t get stopped.

She didn’t.

Since then, she’s driven buses for every school in the district.

She Stayed

Brown said she stayed on the job all those years because it’s so easy.

“It’s two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and you’re home with your kids,” she said.

“And when my grandchildren came along, I took care of them, so I put them in the car seats and took them with me on the bus. The kids loved them … and would feed them their bottle.

“Can’t do that today.”

Two years ago, Scherie Ciarrocchi became the school district bus coordinator. Ciarrocchi, who now lives in Walpole, grew up in Westwood and drove a school bus for about 20 years.

“Judy is a very strong woman,” Ciarrocchi said. “And I admire her. She is very opinionated and funny. You have to have a good sense of humor to drive a school bus.”

After Brown retired from driving, Ciarrocchi urged her to come back.

“I wanted her here because she’s a good team member,” said Ciarrocchi, who looks to Brown for advice.

“When you’re driving some place, people will look at you,” Ciarrocchi said. “I remember Judy telling me, ‘Don’t make eye contact … just drive.’

“And I can actually hear that in my head some days.”

Good Bad Boys

Brown said she dealt with some pretty rowdy kids back in her days driving Martha Jones students.

“I remember loading the kids on the bus when all of sudden, one of the kids climbed on top of the roof of the bus,” she said.

“I had to send one of the kids to get the principal, who had a hard time getting the kid off the roof. There he was, hanging from the roof, looking at me through the window.”

Another time, a student hit her with a snowball.

“I opened the door and wham,” she said, “right in the face.”

And then there was Chris Sweeney, one of those “bad boys you just liked,” Brown said.

“I’d take him home just to get rid of him quick,” she said with a chuckle.

Sweeney, now 54, remembers walking to Martha Jones and Sheehan. Then, when he was about 12, he started at Thurston Middle School and rode the bus from Route 109.

“What I can remember is the way Judy Brown went out of her way to make sure that my day was better,” Sweeney said. “She did that by dropping me off at my house to get rid of me so there was no trouble on the bus — and telling me to sit right there in the front seat where she could keep an eye on me.”

He describes his younger self as “one of those boys who seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“I was just caught up in some situations with people I hung with who weren’t the best,” he said.

As for Brown, “She is just a wonderful lady,” he said. “I can’t say how much of a wonderful person she was. I looked forward to getting on the bus every time she was driving.”

A Good Start to the Day

As a school bus driver, Brown said, the most rewarding thing is knowing you’ve done the best you can to take care of your riders.

“You can’t get distracted for one second … like when they’re getting off,” she said. “You’ve got to know where they go all the time.”

Brown said she’s proud to have transported kids all over town for so many years without a serious problem.

“I’ve hit a few snowbanks trying to make a corner during a blizzard,” she said. “But nothing serious.”

She said she’s glad to have been able to help kids start their days in a nice way.

“That’s the best thing you can do and that’s what I’m so happy for … so their first days can start off nicely and they won’t have that drama.”

And when there is a bump in the road…

“If one of these kids forgets a book or something, I take them back to the house,” Brown said. “Who wants to be stressed out over a book or their eyeglasses, library card or lunch money?”

The End of the Road?

This might be Brown’s last year driving a school bus.

‘How long am I going to drive?” she wondered. “I’ll be 80 in a few years. And now I’ll have to have two physicals every year instead of one.”

Brown still lives in the same house she and Edward lived in after they got married. She says she didn’t get very far from her old childhood home on Willard Circle.

Her son lives at the end of the street, and her daughter lives two streets over.

“I told my granddaughters when they went to college: ‘Don’t you date anybody unless they’re from this area.’

“Just not gonna happen.”

Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications, Inc. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at lindasfaces@gmail.com.

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