Francis (Buddy) Thomas was forced out of work on a gray morning last October when he suffered a paralyzing stroke as he was steering his Prince George's County School bus down Rte. 1 toward the Greenbelt lot.
The next day, Thomas, a 26-year-old Hyattsville man who had been transporting children to school for three years began collecting sick leave.
That sick leave ran out, officially, on Dec. 31 at a time when Thomas in no condition to return to his job - but he is still collecting his benefits today thanks to his bus driving colleagues in school employees Local 2250.
In an uncommon gesture, 100 driver sent a petition to the Prince's County Board of Education stating that they wanted to donate one day of sick leave each to Thomas. The school board immediately accepted the proposition.
"It was a spontaneous kind of thing that the drivers themselves decided they would do for Buddy," said Harold Shaw, associate director of the union. "Buddy is an extremely friendly guy. He had a lot of friends who wanted to do something for him."
Shaw said he was pleased that the sick leave gesture was not stalled by "bureaucratic red tape," and attributed that to the work of School Supt. Edward J. Feeney. "He responded to it very quickly," said Shaw. "Feeney's a human-oriented human being."
Althout the school administration accepted the proposal on the condition that it was, in Shaw's words, "a one-time gesture," the concept of forming sick leave "banks" is taking hold in Prince George's County. It is part of the contract package agreed to yesterday by the school board and bargainers for the Prince George's County Education Association, which represents, 7,900 teachers and aides.
Under the present contract, school employees rely on an income protection insurance plan after sick leave benefits are exhausted. The insurance plan, unlike sick leave, does not provide the worker with a full weekly salary.
Thomas, who is single, is recovering at his mother's home in Hyattsville. He said he has regained the use of his right leg and arm and that his speech has improved somewhat from the garbled" state it was in after the stroke.
"I can't say how much I appreaciate what those guys did of me," he said. "They really came through." Thomas said he would like to return to his bus route sometime in the future His doctors, however, have recommended that he pursue some other vocation.
"I always had a great time driving the bus, until that morning. I had just dropped the kids off at Belsville Junior High for my last run of the morning. I was taking a right turn off Rte. I when I noticed that my right arms went numb.
"I did the best I could to get the bus over to the side of the road and moved to get out of the seat when I realized I couldn't move my legs and myu face seemed real cold. It was frightening. I'm thankful just to be around today."