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Norfolk's longest serving bus driver honoured for 47 years of keeping the county moving

PUBLISHED: 15:23 05 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:33 05 March 2019

Kenneth Willis has worked for First Bus for 47 years and was honoured for his service at its annual awards. Photo: Submitted

Kenneth Willis has worked for First Bus for 47 years and was honoured for his service at its annual awards. Photo: Submitted

Archant

A familiar face to bus passengers around the county has been honoured with a special award for keeping Norfolk moving for nearly 50 years.

Kenneth Willis has worked for First Bus for 47 years and was honoured for his service at its annual awards. Photo: SubmittedKenneth Willis has worked for First Bus for 47 years and was honoured for his service at its annual awards. Photo: Submitted

Ken Willis from Norwich began working for First Bus, then called Eastern Counties, in 1972 when his father offered to get the strapped-for-cash trainee carpenter fixed up with a conductor role.

He started the day after his initial interview and said he had not looked back since.

Mr Willis said the job had changed immensely in 47 years, with the company’s modern fleet unrecognisable from the original distinctive red Bristol buses, decked out with crash gear boxes and half cabs.

He said: “It’s a changing world and we’ve got to move with it. When I first started we had conductors with setright machines but today it’s very different with people paying with cards and mobile phones.”

A First Eastern Counties red Bristol bus, similar to the style Mr Willis worked on in the 1970s 
Picture: Nick ButcherA First Eastern Counties red Bristol bus, similar to the style Mr Willis worked on in the 1970s Picture: Nick Butcher

The Norwich driver admitted he sometimes hankered after the camaraderie between drivers and conductors and said changes to payment methods meant there was less opportunity to get to know passengers.

However, despite the ever-altering work environment, the veteran First employee said he still loved the job.

Recent years have seen an influx of young first-time drivers, marking a change from the ‘70s when it was commonplace for sons to follow their fathers into the role.

Mr Willis said his nearly 50 years’ experience put him in a prime position to help rookie employees settle in and that getting to know them kept him feeling young.

A First Eastern Counties red Bristol bus, similar to the style Mr Willis worked on in the 1970s 
Picture: Nick ButcherA First Eastern Counties red Bristol bus, similar to the style Mr Willis worked on in the 1970s Picture: Nick Butcher

He said: “As a driver with so many years’ experience you try and help them and I think they appreciate it in the long run. They have training like I still do but you do what you can to support them.”

To mark the Norwich driver’s momentous contribution to the company, he was recognised at the First Group’s annual long service awards, held at Sprowston Manor on Saturday night (March 2).

Mr Willis is the longest serving recipient at the 2019 awards and his wife, Sandra Willis, said she was thrilled with the recognition.

She added: “I could not be more proud of my lovely husband.”

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