PITTSBORO — Five mornings a week for 22 years, Ronnie Gilmore woke up at 4:30 to start his day as a beloved custodian and bus driver at Perry Harrison Elementary.
Now, after retiring earlier this year, he gets a little more sleep.
“I get up a little later now,” he said with a big laugh, then more seriously: “I gave them 22 years. I gave the best I could and I thought it was time to move on.”
Gilmore, 58, started working at Perry Harrison in 1999. Over the years, he saw principals, teachers and students come and go, worked under new superintendents and faced the myriad challenges that come with being employed in a school during a pandemic.
Known for his boisterous voice, welcoming hugs and as “a great ambassador for goodness” among the Perry Harrison community, Gilmore also impacted many people during his years at the school. On Nov. 6, the school’s PTA commended Gilmore’s service to the school with a ceremony dedicating a tree planted in front of the school to honor him.
“I didn’t know so many people loved me this much,” Gilmore said at the ceremony. “I tell the kids every day they got on the bus: get to school, learn something, get your education, because the only way to go far in life is to get an education. A lot of them listened to me and a lot of them went on and they graduated and I love them all. I just want to thank each and every one of you for coming out and God bless each and every one of you.”
During the ceremony, 2nd-grader Beatrice Allen shared a tribute to Gilmore. Allen rode Gilmore’s bus when she was in kindergarten and 1st grade — before and during the pandemic.
Gilmore noted Allen’ words as one of his favorite parts of the event.
“Mr. Ronnie is one of the greatest bus drivers of all time,” Allen said. “He was always really nice to everyone, he always put safety first and he was always smiling. He was really patient and knew all of our names. I’m glad he can get a break now, but I’m sad that he has to leave our school. I’m lucky to have had him as my bus driver.”
Allen said it seemed “really nice” to plant a tree in Gilmore’s honor, because “a tree is beautiful and strong and lives a long time.”
“Also, trees take care of us,” she said, “just like Mr. Ronnie.”
“It was beautiful, it was beautiful,” Gilmore said of the ceremony. “That was so sweet. All the kids that came, came up and hugged me and told me they missed me and I told them I missed them too. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Gilmore made it a point to tell the kids that he loved them and to give them hugs each day, knowing that some of them didn’t always “get hugged or told they’re loved by their families.”
“I just loved working there for 22 years,” he said. “Mostly for the kids — I loved seeing the kids every day.”
Now that he’s retired from the school job, Gilmore spends most days working part-time with his son, Quentin Gilmore, who lives in Winston-Salem and works as a truck driver.
Still, these days he makes more time to watch TV, and hopes the future includes a lot of traveling to see the mountains and “some of the big cities” with his wife, Doris Gilmore, once she also retires.
“It’s been good, but I miss the kids at Perry Harrison,” he said of retired life. “But I’m not sitting at home every day, I’m out there with my son.”
For the community at Perry Harrison, seeing Gilmore retire is bittersweet. They’re glad he is finally getting a break after years of hard work, but they also miss him.
Julie Ricker, a PTA volunteer, met Gilmore when her 4th-grader son started at Perry Harrison, and she helped organize the ceremony and tree dedication to honor Gilmore.
“He just from day one was just a very visible presence to anybody. You know, he didn’t extend his warm welcome just to me, it was to anybody who walked through the doors,” she said. “That’s why he made such a big impact for his whole 22-year career because he was good to everybody he saw and I think that everybody felt that warmth and love from him and he’s definitely missed.
“So we just are glad to have had the chance to honor him and remind him of what he meant to so many.”
You can read more notes at the website created by Perry Harrison parents for Gilmore last year.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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