Laurence Prentiss Diggs, 73, bus driver and dispatcher

March 23, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Laurence Prentiss Diggs, a retired Mass Transit Administration dispatcher who had a second career driving horse players to thoroughbred racetracks, died of cancer Sunday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. The Woodlawn resident was 73.

Born in Baltimore and raised on North Stricker Street, he attended Booker T. Washington Junior High School. As a teen, he began driving a delivery truck for the Morton Schenk Co., a tailors' supply house.

When the Korean War broke out, Mr. Diggs wanted to join his brothers, George and Louis, who were serving in the military there. But the Army had a rule that would not allow three brothers to serve in the same place.

"We were an extremely tight family group and were all close as brothers," said Louis Diggs, who lives in Owings Mills. "Laurence was disappointed, but he accepted the rule and went on to West Germany, and drove heavy tracks there."

After his military service, Mr. Diggs returned to his driving job with Schenk. In the early 1960s, he began driving buses for the Baltimore Transit Co., working out of its Bush Street bus barn in Southwest Baltimore.

He later became a dispatcher for what had become the Mass Transit Administration, working at the Northwest Transit Center on Northern Parkway. He retired in 1993.

"He was popular with his riders because he loved to talk," said Irvin Nore, a friend and fellow MTA employee. "He was a friendly guy. It would be hard not to like him."

In 1996, Mr. Diggs embarked on another job -- driving the Bell Bus Co. racetrack bus. An article in The Sun featured Mr. Diggs and the mostly elderly fans he addressed as "my brother" or "my sister" in taking them to Laurel Park, Charles Town Races in West Virginia and Delaware Park in Wilmington:

"I don't drive until I pray," Mr. Diggs said in the article, which noted: "The bus driver delivers a Hail Mary and an Our Father, and `May the boys have a good day at Laurel Park.'"

On the trip home, the article said, Mr. Diggs told his passengers, "All of you who lost money at the track, remember, it's just a loan until tomorrow when you win it back."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at New All Saints Roman Catholic Church, 4408 Liberty Heights Ave., where Mr. Diggs was a member for more than 40 years and served as a parish visitor to several Northwest Baltimore nursing homes.

In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife of 12 years, the former Hazel Boyd; four sons, Laurence P. Diggs Jr., Derrick Diggs, Ronald Diggs and Aaron Diggs, all of Baltimore; two daughters, Tamar Israel of Baltimore and Peggy McIver of Woodlawn; a sister, Nettie Holley of Baltimore; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His marriage to the former Anita Brooks ended in divorce. A son, Kirk Diggs, died in 1983.

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