Joseph A. Vittek, the state Mass Transit Administration's longest-serving full-time bus driver, with more than 50 years behind the wheel, died Friday of illness brought on by depression at Manor Care nursing home in Rossville. He was 75 and had lived in Eastwood in Baltimore County.
Mr. Vittek began his career as a Baltimore bus driver in 1947 on the advice of his father-in-law, who told him that if he did it well, he would never have to look for another job. The advice proved true.
He started as a driver with the old Baltimore Transit Co. when the city's buses had no air conditioning. Baltimore Transit became part of the MTA in 1971, and in 1978, Mr. Vittek began driving exclusively for MTA's Mobility service for disabled riders.
He stayed with the Mobility service until his retirement in 1997, his 50th work anniversary. He gave his home telephone number to regular riders and once slept at the bus depot on Washington Boulevard during a winter storm in case he was needed to replace a driver who was unable to report to work.
"People get to know your name. They depend on you to get them to the hospital or work. It's not really work, driving the bus. It's a nice pleasure to deal with people like this," Vittek told The Sun in October 1996, four months before he was scheduled to retire.
As it turned out, Mr. Vittek never really quit. He continued working full time as a driver and supervisor for an MTA-affiliated van service until February 1999, said his daughter, Linda Miller of Eastwood.
"He was one of our premier drivers for the Mobility Paratransit service," said Frank Fulton, MTA spokesman. "He was one of the distinguished veteran bus operators. He also held bus badge No. 1 [which signifies seniority] until he retired."
He stopped driving only because of failing physical health, Ms. Miller said. Without his work, Mr. Vittek's mental and physical condition quickly deteriorated. In recent weeks, she said, her father had become increasingly depressed and stopped eating.
"He gave up the thing he loved, and it literally killed him," Ms. Miller said.
Mr. Vittek died at Manor Care nursing home, where his older sister, Marie Krause, also lives and helped care for him.
Born in 1925 in Baltimore, Mr. Vittek grew up in Highlandtown, the oldest boy of seven children. His father died when he was 13, and he went to work at an early age to help support his family.
He married Rita L. Nelson in 1945, and the couple raised two sons and a daughter. Mr. Vittek said in 1996 that his wife often was ill and that between his work and caring for her, he had no free time for hobbies or other activities. Rita Vittek died of cancer in 1992.
Mr. Vittek is also survived by two sons, Joseph Vittek Jr. and Charles Vittek, both of Eastwood; two other sisters, Patricia Placide of Reisterstown and Joan Wellington of Eastwood; three brothers, Robert Vittek of Edgemere, James Vittek of Perry Hall and John Vittek of Selbyville, Del.; and four grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Bradley-Ashton-Matthews Funeral Home, 2134 Willow Spring Road in Dundalk.