Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2021 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Head of Transportation Sharon Comeau.
Sharon Comeau spent her career in transportation – both on the roads and on the water. She retired this year as Head of Transportation at SMUS after 15 years here.
“I always loved driving,” she says.
She started her career bus driving and dispatching in Port Hardy in 1976, then moved to Sointula, an isolated community on Malcolm Island just off the north coast of Vancouver Island. There, she drove the public school bus every day while she was also a special education worker, substitute teacher, teacher’s aide, grounds keeper and coached at a few schools in the area. “You name it, I coached it.” Sharon bussed in the winter, then led kayak trips in the summer. She also drove a nighttime ambulance for a decade, “The stretchers did not fit in the seine boat doorways, so we sat out on the deck during crossings!” Part of Sharon’s early rationale with her professional path was to secure an income and while having the flexibility to spend time with her children.
When the kayak business sold, Sharon moved to Victoria and worked with Victoria Harbour Ferry as a watch leader and training new hires. But she still felt like she needed a “real” job and applied to SMUS initially as a parttime bus driver. When the transportation supervisor position was posted, Sharon got the job and seamlessly moved into the senior role.
She was impressed with how seemingly effortless it was for SMUS and Glenlyon Norfolk School (with which the school shares a bus service) to amalgamate and share the buses. “We take kids everywhere to do so many incredible things.” With distinct ease fitting into many roles, Sharon observes, “My eclectic background served me well”. She says her past choir experience enabled her to assist the SMUS music department. Plus, Sharon knew what they meant when asked to “pick up a euphonium and two double basses” and how much care and attention was needed to transport these instruments. With a passion for music and sports, she shares, “The bonds you make (in transportation) with the athletics and the music departments are strong. You need to get things done, and they need to get done well.”
Sharon’s home base on campus was what’s been lovingly dubbed the “purple palace,” a mauve house located next to the Middle School. Outdoor education, ancillary services and a few other departments have occupied this building over the years, and “it was hilarious from start to finish – supportive and hilarious.”
“Transportation has evolved everywhere,” says Sharon, remembering the days of no power steering, giant stick shifts and no synchromeshes (which help manual transmission vehicles make smooth gear shifts). “We’ve increased the fleet to ten buses,” she says proudly. Sharon’s sincere pleasure in the evolution of the fleet and its impact on students’ experiences reflects what a perfect fit she has been for SMUS.
On technological advances in her department, Sharon describes, “We started with a huge whiteboard. This is pre-cellphone.” They went through reams of paper to plan and execute travel. “There were coffee stains, dogs chewed it. … I would want gloves to handle some.” IT devised a system with Sharon to book trips online. Then, tablets were installed on each bus with GPS. This was game-changing; it allowed Sharon to see how much fuel each bus had, where they were – “you could even see who was speeding,” Sharon jokes. “It’s still very early tech, but it’s brilliant, and we are right at the top of the curve for transportation.” Sharon says she appreciated all of the support from supervisors and the school’s Director of Finance and CFO for their understanding of the importance of her team’s duties.
Above all, Sharon stresses, “My job would never have meant as much, or we would never have been able to do what we do, without the [bus drivers]. We all fly under the radar because that is who we are. But any success earned is directly a result of the drivers; they made a huge difference.”
Now it is time for Sharon to garden, sing with Kintara Women’s Chorus, bike ride and get back to volunteering. She ocean swims with friends four times a week, and with twin granddaughters in the Kootenays and a sister with a home in Mexico, she says more adventures are on the horizon.