It’s easy to see why TriMet bus operator Catherine McLendon is a customer-service pro. Her mantra: “How would I want to be treated?”
“It’s like that girl with the coffee who just got on the bus thanking me with her eyes for waiting for her,” says McLendon, who recently won our 2015 Operator of the Year award among part-time drivers.
McLendon, raised in Portland and now a Beaverton resident, today is on Line 56—a loop that runs from downtown Portland to Washington Square Mall. She greets riders with a friendly hello.
Before signing up for her current route, she had driven Lines 45 and 92. She especially connected with folks on the 92, which originates in Southwest Portland and heads toward Murray Road and Scholls Ferry Road in Beaverton.
“They’re fun, they joke around. It just feels like family to me,” McLendon says. “The last day I said goodbye, I started crying. I had bad allergies that day, so I blamed it on that. But literally my sunglasses were all steamed up.”
Early in her career, McLendon worked in the food-brokerage industry and didn’t want to spend her career in a desk job. Her stepdad, Wayne Reynolds, also operated a TriMet bus for 21 years and knew she was a good driver. In 1994, he encouraged her to apply. She soon began driving a bus. She appreciates how TriMet has offered her stability, the choice to stay part-time, great benefits and the chance to expand her career.
Her husband, Martin, also is a TriMet bus operator. They had already known each other at work when one day he graciously cleaned her bus mirrors during a break. That good deed has led to a lifelong partnership.
McLendon enjoys seeing the same faces on her Beaverton routes.
“You get to know how they’re doing, where they’re going, what their dog’s name is,” she says.
She makes a point to wave at cars when she’s leaving a stop, thank people and drive courteously. And if there’s an accident, she knows the back roads.
It’s no surprise she’s won 16 Safe Driving Awards and four Ace awards for helping Honored Citizen riders. McLendon even remains pen pals with several honored-citizen riders she’s met over the years.
McLendon prefers the 30-hour per week part-time position because she’s able to volunteer with organizations like the SMART reading program and the American Red Cross Pillowcase Project. An incident from a few years ago also has motivated her to get her First Aid and CPR certifications.
So, what happened? She was operating Line 92 and stopped to wait for a man running toward her. He then collided with a pillar and collapsed in front of the bus. McLendon jumped out of her seat and realized he was having a heart attack. One of the passengers knew CPR and kept him breathing until an ambulance arrived.
A few months later, she saw the man at the same stop.
“I got on the microphone and said, ‘Don’t look now, but you won’t believe who’s at the bus stop.’ Once he gets on, everyone starts clapping. Tears are just popping out of my eyes because I’m so joyful he’s vertical.”
Outside of TriMet, she gardens, spends time with her three college-aged children and cruises around with Martin on his Vespa. Her part-time status also allows her to run a flower business, Flowers by Cat. A florist since 1987, she used to have a booth at Portland Saturday Market. She now spends many summer weekends on the wedding circuit and says “peonies are the hot flower right now.”
Whether selling flowers, volunteering, or safely driving a bus, it’s a sure bet she’ll treat people well.
Congratulations to the 2015 Operators of the Year: Catherine McLendon, James Hilliard and Lyn Simons.