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‘Ms. B’ fondly remembered as influential St. John school bus driver

 

LAPLACE — In more than 30 years of driving a school bus for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools, Barbara Isaac- Lennix became a mother, protector and counselor for generations of children.

She was loved by all who knew her, both for her caring personality and for the special passion she brought to her career, which was evident down to the school bus shoes she wore.

The community had to say goodbye to their beloved “Ms. B” on August 24 after she succumbed to COVID-19.

The close-knit team of St. John Parish bus drivers treasure memories of Barbara.

Clarissa “Reesce” Alvis remembers when Barbara was her bus driver. She was the only child at the end of the road, and Barbara would make a special trip just to pick her up.

Later on, Barbara and another bus driver named Lynette Mitchell influenced her career path by taking her under their wings when she was struggling to provide for her children.

“Lynette trained me, showing me the parts of the bus, and Ms. Barbara taught me how to drive it. She kept my pockets full,” Clarissa said. “She knew my situation, and when we needed a driver, she called me. Barbara had the biggest heart. If she didn’t have it, she was going to get it and give it to you.”

Barbara could find the person with the ugliest attitude and bring out the good in them. She organized a lot of field trips, and she was never shaken when plans changed at the last minute.

When Hurricane Ida rolled into St. John Parish, Clarissa imagined how Barbara would’ve reacted. Barbara had a history of staying even-keeled and unbothered even in the most hazardous situations, such as when she slept through a tornado ravaging her street in 2016.

In the end, Barbara knew everything would be alright.

“She would tell be, ‘If the water gets in, I’ll put my feet up. If it gets bad, they’ll come get me’…She didn’t have a worry in the world because she put her faith in God,” Clarissa said.

Denise Smith and Gaynell Noble met Barbara when they became bus drivers for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools in 2001. The relationship  the drivers built over the past 20 years made them more like family than co-workers.

Denise thought of Barbara as a teacher and a mother figure. While she was just starting out as a bus driver, Barbara was a veteran, and she took all of the newcomers under her wing.

“She treated me like one of her own children. Any time I needed something, she helped me out. I learned a lot from being with her,” Denise said. “If you needed somebody to talk to, she was always there with a listening ear. When I had a baby, she treated my child like her own grandchild.”

Denise’s husband was in a gospel group with Barbara called The Tones of Joy. At festivals across Louisiana, Barbara could be found performing on the gospel stage.

Denise also spent time with Barbara for parades, football games, and sometimes basketball and volleyball games. Sometimes they ended up in the boondocks together, unsure of where to turn. On other occasions, they enjoyed clowning together at restaurants or at Walmart.

Gaynell said her favorite memories of Barbara were the lighthearted moments. In early 2020, before all the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, they went to Walmart after driving the band to a parade off of Tchoupitoulas. Barbara pushed Gaynell around the store in a shopping cart. They took pictures and laughed at themselves, and all felt right in the world.

Gaynell said Barbara was an incredibly well-rounded person who was versatile enough to relate to everyone.

“She was bubbly, friendly, silly, cool and caring. She was a person of sacrifice, dignity, integrity,” Gaynell said. “She was full of life. She catered to people. She didn’t just do it because she had to. She loved being there for people.

Her love for others extended to every child she encountered in her decades-long career. She went above and beyond for every boy and girl who boarded her bus.

“It’s not just a job. We don’t get paid a lot of money, but you have to have a passion. I felt that was her purpose because she had a passion for people. No matter what the job called for, she wore many hats,” Gaynell said. “I have a personality just like her. You can never be too old to be silly. In order to be a bus driver, you have to have an understanding and goofy character.”

Bus driver Anthony Valentine has known Barbara for most of his life. He knew she played piano in the church and that she had a beautiful singing voice, but he didn’t get close to her until they started driving school buses together in 1993. They were both in charge of driving the East St. John Band, and she also drove for other schools around the district, namely John L. Ory and LaPlace Elementary.

“Barbara would do anything for anybody before she would do it for herself,” Anthony said. “She wasn’t easy to anger. There were only two of us, me and Gaynell, that could make her mad enough to curse.”

He said to know Barbara was to love her. People across the community adored her because of her demeanor and the way she treated people.

They shared years of fond memories. One of Anthony’s favorite times with Barbara was when he wore garnet to a Destrehan vs. East St. John football game, and Barbara and the other bus drivers would not rest until his DHS shirt was off.

“There was never a dull moment with her. We were like siblings, but from different mothers. When I found out she was sick, it hurt me deeply,” Anthony said. “I’m going to really miss her, but what I do know is that she was God-fearing, and she had her business in order.”

 

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