Midtown Raleigh News

First female CAT bus driver retiring after 35 years of service

When JoAnn Satterwhite began her career as the first female driver for Raleigh’s Capital Area Transit, no one thought she would make it past six months. Now it’s 35 years later, and Satterwhite is finally retiring on Aug. 31.

Satterwhite began training for CAT on June 23, 1977, at the age of 27. The training included bus driving basics, passenger interaction and memorizing routes. It usually took months to complete, but Satterwhite graduated in two weeks.

“One day my supervisor just called and said that he needed me in at 5,” Satterwhite said. “The next morning was my first day on the job.”

Satterwhite attributed her speedy graduation to initiative and a strong work ethic.

“I learned the routes faster than others because I drove the routes in my own car to make sure I remembered them,” she said. “I knew I had to do more.”

For 15 years, Satterwhite woke up at 2:45 a.m. and reported to the city’s bus depot at 4. While many of her co-workers found the hours too rigorous, Satterwhite excelled, maintaining both a spotless record and a cheerful demeanor. She has since been promoted to dispatcher, after 15 years as a driver.

Despite her hard work, many felt uncomfortable having a woman behind the wheel.

“It was a man’s world, and I felt like I was intruding,” Satterwhite said. “But they accepted me as a sister once I showed them I just wanted a job. It’s not just my co-workers. After a while the world just decided to change, but that took a while.”

Satterwhite has seen a lot of change in her years with CAT.

“When they first hired me, the depot was on West Street,” she said. “There weren’t any women’s restrooms or anything.”

In the new depot on Poole Road, there are equal numbers of male to female bathrooms.

“When she first came here, a lot of people were looking at her like, ‘This isn’t going to work, she isn’t going to last six months,’ ” said Ronald Wilson, a veteran bus operator.

Wilson began working for CAT at about the same time as Satterwhite, and witnessed first-hand how she dealt with and overcame obstacles. As the pair briefly reminisced about their past, the decades of working together showed in their friendly camaraderie.

“She has an outgoing personality,” Wilson said. “That’s the kind of thing you need to have, to last in this job.”

Satterwhite’s personality helped her to establish lasting relationships with both co-workers and passengers. She recalled her experiences with a particular passenger, Lula-May Tucker.

“She was the sweetest thing,” said Satterwhite, grinning. “Some days driving the bus, especially during the summer, it would get hot. She would always be there with a glass of sweet tea for me and the other bus drivers. She was always thinking about us.”

Wilson said Satterwhite inspired that kind of devotion.

“People on the buses are still talking about her,” Wilson said. “Two weeks ago, a man got on the bus and asked for Ms. JoAnn.”