Retirement won?t be Neil?s last stop
By CRAIG McTEAR
WITH a tear in her eye and a big cuddle, one of Neil Stanford's passengers wished him all the best.
She'd heard her favourite Coffs Harbour bus driver was retiring after 25 years of cheerful service, and she was sorry to see him go.
The significance of that moment wasn't lost on Neil, who has made plenty of good friends in his travels.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed being a steering-wheel attendant," he laughed, "because I've met so many great people."
When he completes his final run at 4.45pm today, he'll be leaving behind some wonderful memories, but also relishing the great retirement he and his partner, Carol, have planned.
They're about to head off around Australia in their newly-built caravan, and their first stop will be the Gympie Muster, where Neil will celebrate his 65th birthday.
They'll be up there with Bob Haiser, who gave Neil his start at Coffs Harbour Bus Lines back in 1981.
Neil had just made the big shift from Scone, where he had a trucking business, and he soon found himself on the Coffs school bus run.
About 18 months later, he began taking tours around Australia for Bob's other company, Coffs Harbour Coaches, a labour of love which lasted 18 years.
"I got paid to see Australia and drive a half-million-dollar Mercedes Benz coach," Neil said.
"It got big in the '80s and '90s, because the golden oldies were getting great interest on their investments. I thoroughly enjoyed driving them around.
"I've loved taking people to places they've never been before.
"I know every hospital in country Australia, because invariably, some of my passengers have needed medical treatment during their trip.
"I've seen everywhere in Australia. It's such a beautiful country. That's why I'm becoming a grey nomad ? I just love it, and I can now do it under my own steam."
When Bob sold to King Bros in 2000, Neil went onto the Coffs town service, and he's remained on that run under the change of hands to Busways.
He drives eight times around the city each day, and reckons a good bus driver is someone with plenty of patience, a good listener, and proficient behind the wheel.
"It's getting tougher driving, because motorists today don't have any patience."