Town mourns 'everybody's father figure' Bus driver's career spanned 20 years

November 01, 1997|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Andrea F. Siegel and Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

Old friends arrived first at Wardell John Brice Sr.'s tiny barber shop in Easton yesterday afternoon, leaving gold and red flowers on the cement stoop outside the shuttered business.

Some were the children, now adults, he had transported to and from classes in the Talbot County Schools over a 20-year career as a bus driver.

"I don't think you'll find nobody talk harsh about him," said Ernest Potter, 43, of Easton. "He was everybody's father figure."

By evening, as flowers and cards covered the steps, a growing number of more youthful visitors had gathered on the spot to mourn the popular bus driver who died yesterday morning when a tractor-trailer collided with his bus in thick fog on Route 50.

Wardell Brice, all said, had a knack for reaching out to any generation with his sense of humor, understanding and generosity.

Over the years, students knew better than to act up on "Mr. Wardell's bus," and they respected him.

"He made sure you behaved; there was no rowdiness," one 47-year-old recalled. Yet, he was approachable.

After opening his tiny Port Street barber shop in Easton a few years ago, it was the younger crowd he cultivated. He copied the popular styles he saw on television and brought hip-hop cuts to the neighborhood. On Fridays and Saturdays, the shop was usually jammed with customers there on business or just hanging out.

Quick to tease, the bespectacled Brice exaggerated his fishing excursions and chattered about the Chicago Bulls. His enthusiasm for basketball and local youths extended to sponsorship of the Hoop Stars, an Eastern Shore Athletic Organization team that includes his grandson.

Last night, team members took turns signing a large white banner draped in front of the shop that read: "We'll miss you, Mr. Wardell. You will not be forgotten."

"He'd look at the people who came in, and sometimes he'd ask 'Are you hungry? Are you OK?' " Potter said. "He always helped and gave people a few bucks if they needed it."

Barbering and bus driving were only two of the occupations Brice took on to support his family over the years. He grew vegetables, operated a slaughterhouse, became a landlord and mowed lawns, friend recalled.

Curtis Bell was among many friends who learned of Brice's death yesterday after rushing to the hospital to determine the fate of his own son.

Thankfully, he said, he discovered his son had decided to walk to school. "All that fog -- nobody should have been driving in it," said Bell. Of Brice, he said: "He was so good to me -- it's a lot of hurt."

Around the corner from Brice's shop, Francis Wilson opened his own barber shop yesterday morning after a worrisome trip inching his car through the fog into Easton.

A friend of Brice since the two attended barber school together in the late 1960s, they were genial competitors. Wilson had given up his job as a school bus driver for the county seven years ago.

Even so, he worried yesterday morning thinking about the school buses and the fog on the way in. His wife is an employee for the schools who is on the call list to get the word out if classes are canceled or delayed for any reason, he said. No call ever came.

"I drove a school bus for 22 years, and I know how it is out there," Wilson said yesterday. He arrived and snapped on the television hear the first broadcasts about the accident.

Minutes later, a customer came in and said all he knew was it was bus No. 3.

"I knew it was the bus he drove," Wilson said.

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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