Willie Jack: TriMet Master Operator
By Bruce Poinsette of The Skanner News
May 31, 2012In order to obtain Master Operator status as a Tri-met bus driver, one has to go 1,960 hours without accident or incident ten times. Willie Jack has done it 30.
“There is never a dull moment as a bus driver, and I have enjoyed my 35 years of service,” says Jack. “I am much honored to be the first recipient of the Golden Master Operator award.”
Tri-met created the honor specifically for Jack, who became the first driver in the history of the institution to complete Master Operator requirements three consecutive times.
Jack, who has been with Tri-met for 35 years, is a committed bus driver who values time with his family and giving back to the community.
He grew up in Mississippi during the 50s and 60s, where he says there was much less opportunity for Black people.
Jack remembers when civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered in 1964 in one of the most infamous lynchings of the Civil Rights Era.
While this moment and other instances of Jim Crow racism stood out to Jack, he puts more emphasis on lack of economic opportunities as the biggest obstacle for his peerat the time.
“The jobs weren’t as easy,” he says. “You had more opportunity here (Oregon) than in Mississippi.”
Jack moved to Oregon in 1968 after his mother passed away. He stayed with an aunt that lived in Northeast Portland as he was transitioning from his high school graduation into the professional world.
The first job Jack had was painting cars. He would work outside no matter how cold or warm it was.
Being a bus driver wasn’t on his mind but he utilized advice he got when he was a child about work ethic.
“I didn’t look that far ahead at that time,” he says. “An old man once told me that no matter what you do, be the best that you can.”
When Jack first started with TriMet, the transportation institution was much different than it is today. There was only one garage, compared to the three they have now, and no MAX.
Since there were fewer employees, Jack says that the drivers had to make all of the runs.
Jack attributes his success to preparation. He says he’s learned to look for potential problems before they happen.
Some of the main issues he handles on a daily basis are traffic, rude passengers, people getting sick during the course of bus rides, lost children and gang activity on the bus.
Beyond preparation, Jack also says he’s been lucky.
“My wife says I’ve been blessed,” he says. “I’ve had very few sick days.”
The lack of sick days allowed Jack to complete his first 1,960 hours of driving ten times without incident, accident, or lost time and pass through TriMet’s Master Program. Similarly, he completed the next 1,960 hours ten times to become a Grand Master, which was Tri-met’s highest honor at the time.
Last month, Tri-met had a private party for Jack to celebrate his milestone of completing this task for the third time, which came out to 58,800 total hours with no incidents, accidents or lost time. He became the first and only driver to become a Gold Master Operator.
Although Jack takes pride in his work, he is quick to turn the attention to others.
“Earning this award would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the support and excellent relationship from all of my fellow bus operators,” he says.
This attitude extends to his family as well. Jack has been married to his wife Marsha for 37 years and has three daughters and five grandchildren, two of which accompanied him for his interview with this reporter. He says his grandchildren take up the majority of his free time.
When he’s not spending time with his grandchildren, he says he enjoys landscaping and catering for family events with his specialties of fried turkey, fried fish and BBQ ribs.
In addition to family events, he also caters for the community Juneteenth celebration.
This is one of the many ways he tries to give back. Jack was an active volunteer for Community Care and has offered his driving services for his church’s van. He has also helped boy scouts collect Christmas trees for recycling and provided lawn care for older citizens who were unable to do it themselves.
“I like to spend time giving back to my community when I can,” he says. “I enjoy doing what I can for others.”