Fellow drivers mourn loss of Mississippi school bus driver who died of COVID-19

Published 9:48 pm Friday, August 20, 2021

A procession of approximately 25 school buses departed the bus terminal on Lynda Lee Drive in Natchez at 10:30 Friday escorted by law enforcement.

They made their way past each school in the Natchez Adams School District, Frazier, McLaurin, Susie B. West, Natchez Early College, Freshman Academy, Natchez High School Morgantown and the Braden Administration Building.

Greg West said the school bus convoy was held in honor of Ernest “Wayne” Strickland, a school bus operations supervisor who died Monday with complications with COVID-19.

He was 55.

Natchez Adams School District, Durham Bus Services and Ecco Ride participated in this unique memorial, he said.

“I’ve known him for more than 13 years,” said West, a bus driver and friend of Strickland’s. “He got sick before school started and has been in the hospital ever since.”

Strickland worked for Natchez Adams School District for more than 30 years starting when he graduated from North Natchez High School in 1983, he said.

He dedicated much of his life to the schools’ transportation services, working with drivers of Durham School Services and with Ecco Ride when the district changed bus contracts before the start of this school year.

Natchez Adams School District Superintendent Fred Butcher was one of the school bus drivers participating in the procession on Friday.

“It was a touching moment for me,” Butcher said after commending the drivers and people who coordinated the event. “I know how much he loved his job. … He loved the kids. I think that is why he stayed with it. When the new company came on board, he had the opportunity to go with Durham but chose to stay. That made all of us happy.”

Beatrice Collins, who rode with Butcher on Friday, worked with Strickland as a bus driver before moving to the human resources department and they were good friends, she said.

“He was always happy, helpful, hardworking and was always doing whatever he could to make stuff happen,” she said. “After hearing the news Tuesday, it took my breath away. … I was under the impression that he was doing better.”

Butcher said he used to joke with Strickland and say that he had a hard drive in his head to help him remember all the bus routes. He could name the bus number for any bus route by memory, he said.

“It’s because he has been doing this job for so long,” he said. “If you called him with a problem, he would always give you two or three solutions.”

Zandra McDonald-Green, who is the deputy superintendent of Natchez Adams School District, described Strickland as a loving and caring person with “the best customer service voice of anyone I have ever known because he was always pleasant.”

She said, “He was a wonderful person. He was well known and loved by students, parents and employees alike. He went over and above his call to ensure the safety of our students as they were transported to and from school and to other functions.”

Services for Strickland were scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Daughters of Zion Baptist Church Parking Lot, followed by a burial at Daughters of Zion Baptist Church Cemetery.

“Our prayers and condolences go out to his family members,” Butcher said. “He is going to be really missed.”