RICHMOND — Carl Watts knocked on Doreen Moody’s door 31 years ago and offered her a job out of the blue.

“I want you to come learn how to drive a bus,” he told her. “Seriously, I think you would be a good bus driver.” It’s not clear now exactly what Watts saw in Moody, as she walked home with her youngest child every day. But he invited her to his house the next day, handed her the keys to the school bus parked there and they went for a drive.

“It was just the right timing, I think,” Moody said, sitting at her dining room table Wednesday afternoon.

In the background, her visiting grandsons played quietly and watched cartoons with the volume turned low and her big chocolate Labrador retriever, Max, flopped at her feet.

More than three decades later, the Richmond native decided the timing was right to retire after working one job or another since she was 15.

So not two hours earlier, Moody, 66, took her last trip as a school bus driver in Richmond.

She had called in to the office to say she has made her last stop, and when she reached Langdon Road, near Alexander Reed Road, waiting for her were a police car and a firetruck.

In the way of small towns, Richmond celebrates high school sports victories with a parade of fire and police vehicles. Richmond police Sgt. James Donnell stood by his car and told Miss Doreen, as she’s known, that she was getting a hero’s parade of her own.

With the police car and firetruck in front of her, and her husband, Rick, who owns Rick’s Towing, falling in behind her bus at the wheel of his wrecker, they made their way back to the school grounds, where more than 100 people waited to greet her at the end of her final run.

“I couldn’t believe the people took the time out of their day to do that,” she said, moved nearly to tears, and not for the first time that day.

Moody credits the bus drivers who went before her as her inspiration.

“I knew the men and women doing it at the time — such good people — genuinely cared about our kids. And you could see it when you looked at their faces that the kids were happy to see them,” she said.

In her daily trips, Moody instilled in her kids, from pre-kindergarten to high school important lessons about being kind to one another and behaving.

“I taught them to sit safe,” she said. “Backs back, bums down and feet on the floor.”

Teaching that and reinforcing good behavior on the bus was comparatively easy. Much harder, she said, has been knowing that when she has dropped them off, they might not be going to a good place and that their lives could change overnight.

“Two little girls I dropped off at day care and they went to dance lessons at night, and on the way home they were in a car accident and their mother was killed. Their lives changed forever,” she said. “They were just little girls.”

Moody learned early on that she might be the first adult to greet her students with a smile in the morning and she might be the last adult they see before they get back on the bus in the morning.

“Even if they have been a little jerk on the bus the day before, I’m still happy to see them when they get on the bus the next day. That’s how children should be treated. There shouldn’t be any gray area about it,” she said.

If Moody had had her way, her last day would have passed quietly, and she would drift into retirement, when she wouldn’t have to set her alarm in the morning and she could take a nap whenever she pleases.

Katie Spear, transportation director for Richmond and Monmouth, had a different idea.

“She wanted absolutely nothing to happen,” Spear said Friday. “I was not going to let that happen.”

Spear and Moody have worked together for 25 years, and Spear knows her friend well.

“She’s not one to brag,” Spear said.

So she knows Moody wouldn’t have mentioned the plaque that’s going to hang in the middle school in honor of her years of service. And she knows that Moody would have said nothing about being nominated by Spear for the Maine Association for Pupil Transportation’s Above and Beyond Award in 2017 and winning it.

“She’s driven half a million miles, probably closer to three-quarters of a million miles accident-free,” Spear said.

While she has driven her regular route for years, she also has driven students to countless Project Graduation parties — the chemical-free postgraduation parties that many school districts hold.

“She wouldn’t accept pay for that,” Spear said. “I finally told her that she couldn’t do that anymore, that we had to pay her. She would donate that money to the class.”

The festivities are still not done.

On Friday, Spear was completing the final details for the farewell reception that will be held for Moody from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the American Legion Post 132 on Carding Machine Road. It’s open to the public.

“She has cared for each and every child who has ridden her bus as if they were her own,” Spear said. “There’s not enough of that anymore.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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