Ray remembered for 38-year service to Cassville schools
Superintendent: 'He made us a better district'
On countless mornings for 38 years, Doyle Lee Ray, mechanic and driver for the Cassville Bus Barn, rose early while others slept to start school buses, make sure roads were safe for buses to travel on, repair buses, and stay on top of schedules so children made it to and from school each day.
At nearly four decades of service, Ray was a valuable asset to the school district, but now, there is an empty parking space at the Cassville Bus Barn, and a void among his family, friends and coworkers, since the district and community lost him unexpectedly.
His interest in mechanics started in 1974 while still in school at Cassville, where he attended a program that allowed him to work in the bus barn after school and summers, learning about mechanics under then-supervisor Winford Norwood. After graduating from Cassville High School in 1977, he went to work full-time for the bus barn, starting as a driver.
"His first route was Eagle Rock," said his wife Kathy.
Ray's peers consistently recall the attributes people came to know him by -- his uncommon dedication to his job, his concern for the safety of children, his work ethic, character, friendship, hearty laugh and the fact that he never said a bad word about anybody.
"You'll hear that from everybody [about his laugh]," said Kathy, who recalled a story about someone who heard laughter coming from the open windows of the bus barn one day and asked who it was.
Dusty Reid, district facilities and operations director, described Doyle as a huge asset.
"He was a wonderful person and anyone that considered him a friend was lucky," Reid said. "Doyle had a great heart. I don't think I ever saw him without a smile on his face, and his laugh would fill the room. He also loved his family and was great husband and dad.
"He had a reputation across the state as an outstanding mechanic. There were several occasions when mechanics from other school districts would call and ask him help diagnose an issue they would be having with a bus and more times than not, he solved their problem."
Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, also recounted Ray's contributions to the school and the impressions he made.
"He was extremely loyal and proud of the Cassville school district, and he made us a better district because he took so much pride in what he did, and when you have people like Doyle who work hard and take a lot of pride in what they do," he said. "That's so important to making the total organization that much better, and Doyle did a great job of that. It benefited a lot of us to have known Doyle as a good personal friend. He was just a great guy."
Jason Roller, Cassville Bus Barn mechanic, worked with Ray for two years.
"He had such an in-depth knowledge of the transportation department and the bus routing," Roller said. "The bus garage open 5:30 a.m. and sometimes it was 5:30 p.m before the last bus was in. If needed, Doyle would come in early or stay late to help out. He had that kind of dedication. Honestly, he never had a bad thing to say about anything or anyone. He had a big, boisterous laugh. We're like a little family here, we have get-togethers for the holidays, and its especially difficult with Doyle being gone. He was just a really good person."
Joe Cavness, previous director of operations for the district, was Ray's supervisor for several years.
"Doyle would do anything for anybody," Cavness said. "He was always willing to go the extra mile helping our drivers any way he could. He took the transportation department personally. It was what he'd done since he graduated from school. It was his life and it showed in his work. He wanted the buses to be at 100 percent all the time. He cared about the drivers and buses, and if they weren't up-to-speed, he worked over time to make sure they were. He did not count hours when he worked."
Over the years, the school district has consistently received awards on state inspections of their buses.
"He was very instrumental in the buses receiving Fleet Excellence awards," Cavness said. "The inspections by the Highway Patrol were in March, so they'd start getting buses prepared before Christmas. They'd go through them, checking every little item. That was Doyle's Superbowl, the big event for him.
"All the drivers loved Doyle Ray. He was always a friend to everyone. In all the years I knew him, I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. I loved the man, he was a dear friend of mine."
Kathy has a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and mementos from the 1970s on covering Ray's employment with the district. Among them is a 2003 award for 26 years of receiving 100 percent scores on state inspections, and numerous others, including Fleet Excellence awards from 2015 and 2016 for perfect scores.
"On the day of inspections, he would be pacing the floor," Kathy said. "His days were filled with regular routines and things like oil and tire changes, and keeping track of when kids went where."
The couple were married 38 years. After such a loss, Kathy and their three children are trying to cope as best they can. A new grandchild, the family's fourth, is on the way.
"Our joy was together," Kathy said. "It's hard to find your joy when your life partner is not here. We were the type that finished each others sentences."
Ray received cards and presents from children he drove to school, children that grew up during his employment.
"He had a rapport with the kids," Kathy said. "He told me how he'd say 'Good morning' to the kids, regardless of what kind of morning they were having, and the same in the afternoon: 'Have a good evening/weekend.' Several kids came to his visitation, and they talked about seeing Doyle's smiling face."