Issaquah driver receives Metro’s highest honor

August 3, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Countless miles of pavement behind him, Issaquah resident Marvin White manages to get his passengers to their destinations safely and with a smile.

After 31 years with King County Metro Transit, White, 58, was given the organization’s highest achievement for drivers Aug. 2 — the Operator of the Year award for 2009.

County officials, fellow drivers and friends gathered en-masse at the Eastside Base Operations Campus in Bellevue to celebrate White, saying his dedication, work ethic, skill and enthusiasm for his job more than qualified him for the honor.

“This is a great surprise,” White said. “It is a great honor and I thank everyone here for attending.”

“Marvin, I’ve known you for 31 years. We started together back when your hair was short and mine was long and a different color,” Eastside Campus Supervisor Michael List said, referring to White’s head of long dreadlocked hair. “When I first found out you were operator of the year, my first reaction was they sure got it right.”

Born in Baltimore, White enlisted in the Navy and served in Okinawa before retiring as a petty officer third class. He also studied at Northwestern University and the University of Washington before joining Metro in 1979.

“I needed a part-time job, so I applied for part-time positions, but I never got anywhere,” he said. “All they needed was full-time. So I thought, I’ll go full-time and once I’m full-time, I’ll move to part-time.”

But after the paychecks started to roll in and he got to know people, he said he couldn’t help but stay.

Eastside Campus Chief Ken Johnston shared memories of training with White as a young operator, noting White had this magnetism that drew people — particularly female passengers — to him.

“At first, I thought, ‘Hey, the ladies really like the bus drivers,’” he said, “but I realized quickly, it wasn’t all bus drivers they liked. It was Marvin, with his personality, easygoing style and charming smile.”

Over the years, Johnston said, those qualities have helped build White’s personnel file, which is stuffed with countless commendations from passengers, fellow drivers and Metro officials.

In fact, Johnston recounted some of those passenger commendations. One was a note from a woman waiting for a bus who couldn’t make sense of the signs or system. White, on his break, left his bus and walked her to the correct platform and explained how the system worked.

The woman wrote: “‘If Metro could clone Marvin White, you would double your bus riders in a hurry. He is definitely an asset to the system.’”

Another commendation came from a former passenger’s family, Johnston said. After the woman, a regular on White’s 200 route, passed away, he wrote a note to the family, telling them how much he would miss their conversations.

Working here, “it’s just been fantastic,” White said. “All the people I’ve met over the last 30 years, has been great.”

“When I took office, I promised there would be a new emphasis on customer service in the county,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “Here is an employee we want other employees to embody, from the seasonal worker in the county parks to the executive.”

But more than warming hearts, he also has a near-spotless service record. From 2007 to June 2010, he’d only missed one day due to illness. He has also earned safe-driving, accident-free commendations in 23 of his 31 years with Metro.

His ability to connect with people makes him special, Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond said.

Operators are “in contact with people all day, getting on and off the bus helping people, giving people directions and talking to people. But when the customers feel comfortable and know the operator can help get them where they need to go safely, get them there on time and with a smile, that’s special and that comes from people like Marvin,” Desmond said.

White works several routes that come in and out of Issaquah. He’s now working the 214, but has also worked the 271, 200 and 218.

If you don’t get a chance to see him on the bus, then look to the streets. Since 1989, White has commuted to work — by bike. Each day, he rides to the East Campus base in north Bellevue from his Lakemont home and back.

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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