WASHINGTON – The way Gary Clark figures it, he has been engaged in teaching and training for most of his working life. So, when he retired after 37 years at the same company and joined All-Star Transportation, it felt natural for him to become both a driver and a trainer.
Clark, 73, worked for a large chemical and oil company, beginning his career after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in chemical engineering. His first job was in Costa Rica and, from there, he rose through the ranks to eventually become president of the company’s international division.
He joined All-Star 10 years ago, about a year after building a new house in Woodbury. Clark, who says “I couldn’t find Woodbury on a map” before relocating to Connecticut, now is very familiar with school bus routes and roads throughout the Washington area.
“By the time I completed my second year, I had done every route and driven every vehicle,” he says. “Around 2011, I became a trainer. I’ve trained a lot of people in a lot of different things. I had an education as a chemical engineer, so I had to train junior chemical engineers. And eventually I became a senior marketer, and I had to train junior marketers. Then I became an officer of the company, and I had to train everybody. There are some consistent streams or similarities in all forms of training.
“One thing that I did observe here is that we have a pretty diverse group of people – young and old, male and female – people from all different walks of life, but they all approach the (driver) testing process with trepidation, even though they know how to drive and even though they may have passed their prior tests three or four times. They are still very nervous about being able to pass their test.
“And so, what I have found is that it’s not the content of the training that is the most critical path, it is how you manage their emotional barriers to training. You learn how to handle unfounded fears. The pressure of ‘My God, I have to go in front of a stranger and do this.’ It’s really a question of getting them to understand that it’s not very hard at all and just show them what you know.”
All-Star’s good fortune in hiring Clark was the result of one of the country’s great tragedies – the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks on the World Trade Center. Clark and his wife were living in New York at the time of the attack. In fact, their home was in Battery Park City, four blocks south of the World Trade Towers at the southern tip of Manhattan.
On Sept.11, after the first airliner struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, Clark was outside his talking with people when he witnessed a second aircraft strike the South Tower. He quickly returned home to tell his wife and her mother that they had to pack – they were getting out of Manhattan. Then later that morning as he was standing on West Street talking to a police officer about how get out of New York, the first of the Twin Towers collapsed.
“I had a clear view of the building,” he recalled. “As it started to come down, you could hear it. There was a tremendous noise because it pancaked floor on floor. It became a continuous series of explosions on the way down.”
When the tower collapsed, Clark and the police officer were overwhelmed by a fast-moving cloud of dust, smoke and debris. “It took at least five minutes before you could see your hand in front of your face,” he remembered.
When he could see again, Clark returned home, looking for his family. When he realized no one was home, he searched every building in the area looking for them. In each building he shouted for his wife, but in the chaos, he did not hear her reply. Eventually, she and others in the area were evacuated to New Jersey. Clark, meanwhile, retrieved the family car and as he was driving out of the city, he received a call from his son telling him where his wife was located. Clark had to take a long, roundabout route to escape the city and eventually reunite with his wife.
Following that attack, Clark and wife decided they needed a home outside the city. So, he searched and settled upon Woodbury. He purchased land and built a new house, which solved one problem but created another issue.
“So, here I am in a brand-new house with brand new furniture, everything is absolutely immaculate. There is virtually nothing left to be done and my wife is working New York. And I said, ‘I can’t do nothing, I have to do something,’ and then I saw an ad in the paper for All-Star,” Clark recalled.
The advertisement announced openings for school bus drivers in Oxford and Washington. Clark went to both locations, eventually interviewing with Pam Newton in Washington, where he was hired as a driver. It was decision for which he has no regrets.
“I am happy doing this, and I get a feeling of reward,” he says.