ST. PETERSBURG — School bus driver George Franklin always greeted his young passengers with a snappy, "Good morning."
He might quickly follow that up with, "Good morning, I say!"
In 33 years as driver for Pinellas County schools, the next part of his greeting never changed.
"Get on. Sit down. Shut up."
At 5 feet 6 and 150 pounds, Mr. Franklin was not physically imposing. But he meant business.
"He was something like a troubleshooter for the problem school buses," said Johnnye Franklin, a retired teacher and Mr. Franklin's wife. "When there were kids who were having problems or the drivers couldn't control the children, they called him."
Before returning to his afternoon shift, he prepared dinner for his family. Mr. Franklin excelled at ribs, potato salad and macaroni and cheese, his wife said.
Mr. Franklin died April 11 at Bayfront Medical Center, a result of his diabetes, his wife said. He was 77.
He was born in Tallahassee and raised in a large household by grandparents. At age 20 he went to the drive-in and took a liking to Johnnye, who worked the concession stand.
He returned to watch the same movie three nights in a row.
They married in 1956. He started with Pinellas County schools in 1963, three years after moving to St. Petersburg. The same year he joined the Florida Spiritualaires, a gospel group with bookings all over the country. Sometimes he sang the lead part.
"He had a powerful singing voice," said the Rev. Fleming Tarver, 76, who founded the Spiritualaires. "It stood out above an average tenor, and he had control over it."
He was meticulous about his appearance and housework, and kept order among the rowdiest school buses. He handled mechanical failure and other frustrations with epithets like "shucks," "datbumit" or "gotdang."
Mr. Franklin retired in 1996, but continued to cook dinner while his wife cleaned up afterward. He never forgot anniversaries or Valentine's days, she said, showering her with cards and flowers.
The Florida Spiritualaires will sing at his wake today. Scores of mourners will likely wear T-shirts someone made with Mr. Franklin's face on the front. On the back there's a school bus, and his patented greeting.
"Good morning. Get on. Sit down. Shut up."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.