John Helm never thought he’d have lasted this long, in the same job, the same city.
But given the chance to fulfill his childhood dream, he said retirement surely could wait.
Helm reached his amazing milestone Wednesday, March 7, which was 50 years to the day since he first became a bus driver for the Seattle Transit System, a predecessor to METRO and King County Metro.
Over modest pizza and cake, surrounded by longtime friends, colleagues and family, John took it all in, a little shy at the attention. People praised him for his big heart, his calm demeanor, his professionalism. He was honored with two plaques for his longevity.
He should go in the Guinness Book of World Records! We’re so lucky to have John here.
Without education and transportation it’s hard to make it out here. I can’t imagine how many thousands of lives you’ve changed. They’re out there.
He grew up a Kansas farm boy from a big family, where he learned to give and take, cooperate and do the chores you are supposed to do – and with a big heart he says he inherited from his mom and dad. At 21-and-a-half-years-old, he had just finished serving in Vietnam and needed a job, but Boeing was cutting back. Seattle Transit System asked him if he could start the next week. The years came and went as the region boomed, and transit service expanded. He was an Eastside bus driver, and selected by his peers to be Metro Operator of the Year in 1996. When he reached the 40-year mark, he said he thought about retiring.
But then came Link light rail. “What little boy doesn’t want to become a train engineer? It just was a dream come true,” he said.
With his safety record and seniority, he was one of 55 bus drivers in 2009 to train to become the first class of operators on Sound Transit’s Link light rail. He told the SeattlePI at the time “I miss the people and I miss driving, but traffic has gotten horrendous and people aren’t very nice out there when it comes to sharing the road. This came at a perfect time for me and my career. I just like the technology. It’s kinda neat for a 63-year-old guy.”
He was selected to carry dignitaries on the inaugural ride of Link in 2009.
Fast forward to today, he’s 72, and reflecting on how he got where he is. It takes determination, enjoying your job and the people you work with, he said.
“I had a good support group, most of them right back here,” he said, pointing to his wife Pam, his sons and son-in-law, his grandson, sisters-in-law, and his best friend.
There’s another ingredient in 50 years. Got to be love, right? Got to be love, said Terry White, Metro’s operations manager.
See John’s story on KIRO 7.