MOUNT DESERT — “I decided I couldn’t ride around in circles anymore,” Robin MacLeod said with a grin, explaining why, after 38 years, he is retiring as a school bus driver.
He drove for six years in Bar Harbor, where he was born and grew up. For the past 32 years, he has driven for Mount Desert Elementary. He officially retired at the end of last month but has agreed to fill in as needed through the end of the school year.
MacLeod, 63, said friends have asked him if he is retiring because he has finally “had enough” of the kids.
“No, I didn’t have enough of the kids,” he said. “It’s just sitting on a bus waiting [between morning and afternoon runs] that I’ve had enough of.”
He said he is going to miss most of the kids.
“There’s 90 percent of them I love and like to see,” he said. “The other 10 percent, I wish their parents would take them to school. But still, they are all good kids.
“I treat them all fairly and try not to yell. I’m not a yeller, but they know when I speak to them in a certain tone that it’s time to settle down and behave.”
Scott McFarland, principal at Mount Desert Elementary, said MacLeod will be greatly missed, especially by the student passengers.
“The kids all love Robin,” McFarland said. “They know he cares about them. But he doesn’t put up with any nonsense. I have always admired how he is able to create that balance.”
The actual driving of the bus is the easy part of the job, McFarland said.
“It’s the management of the kids in a way that they feel safe, supported and valued, but also have this level of expectation of behavior, that’s so important,” he said.
MacLeod said he has had some funny, sad and just plain odd experiences in his nearly four decades behind the wheel.
One day on the Otter Creek route, he was just starting to make a turn when a little girl got up to toss the lid of her yogurt container into the trash can at the front of the bus.
“I put my arm out to stop her, and the yogurt went everywhere – on the windshield, on the door,” he recalled.
After taking all the kids home, he parked the bus and got in his car. On the way to his home in Ellsworth, he stopped at a store.
“When I reached to get my wallet, I felt my back pocket was wet,” he said. “There was strawberry yogurt all over it.”
Then there was the boy who lived in Seal Harbor who was always causing trouble on the bus – standing up, throwing things and getting into fights. MacLeod suspected that the boy had a rough home life, that his father mistreated him.
After the boy graduated from high school, he saw MacLeod in a store and went over to speak to him.
“He said, ‘I appreciate you not telling my father what was going on on that bus because you knew what my father would have done to me,’” MacLeod said. “And that was the reason I didn’t tell his father, because he would have gotten it at home. So we dealt with it here [at school].”
McFarland said that is an example of the compassion and sound judgment for which MacLeod is so respected.
Mount Desert Elementary operates three school buses. In addition to taking students to and from the elementary school every day, the school provides bus transportation for MDI High School students that live in Mount Desert.
MacLeod said that in general, the high school students are easier to deal with. For one thing, there are fewer of them. They are also half asleep in the morning.
“You pick them up, and they say nothing,” he said. “The grammar school kids are a little noisier.”
And it probably isn’t surprising that girls tend to be better behaved than boys.
“When you speak to girls, they seem to want to mind,” MacLeod said. “You might need to speak to a few of the boys three or four times on a run to make them settle down and know that you mean business.”
Once he is no longer driving a school bus, MacLeod said, “I’m going to do some fishing with my wife, and I’m going to play a lot of golf.”
His golf handicap is seven or eight, which means he is already very good.
“I hope to play five or six days a week once the weather breaks,” he said. “Next winter, I plan on going to Florida for three months and play golf.”