Core of Community: John Montgomery

In this series of articles, titled ‘Core of Community’, Millstone columnist Arnie Francis profiles citizens of Mississippi Mills who embody the spirit of community building.

I’m forever in awe of people who do difficult jobs in service to their neighbours. Front-line workers like police officers, fire fighters and paramedics come to mind. Sure, they may get paid to do the work, but it’s rarely the pay alone that keeps them in their field of service. So I decided to explore the life of one such individual and asked John “Monty“ Mongomery to take a moment and talk to me.

There are a lot of people in this Town who know Monty… and most know him as “Monty the Bus Driver,“ a familiar face to many young people who, over the last 10-15 years, have ridden his yellow school bus. And of course to those anxious parents who put their children on the bus and into the care of the bus driver.

We were parents such as those. On one occasion before the start of school a man called the home phone and asked for Emily. Emily was 8 years old at the time. Somewhat alarmed, Emily’s mom asked who was calling. As it turns out it was Monty the Bus Driver calling to tell young Emily he would be her bus driver as of the first day of school! It was a thoughtful gesture. Unusual in these days of abundant social anxiety, but thoughtful nonetheless.

Over the years Monty became that bus driver who his riders instantly loved. He was fun, inventive and acknowledged them for the enthusiastic youngsters they were, not just passengers. His antics became somewhat mythical. On Hallowe’en, for example, Monty’s bus would be decked out from stem to stern with every conceivable decoration, including the mandatory skeleton riding the safety arm! When I visited Monty, the walls of his garage in his new home were covered with handmade posters of photos and letters from kids and parents wishing him well in retirement.

Monty had not always been a school bus driver. In fact, that was his ”golden years“ occupation after he retired at the age of 56 from a 37 year career as an ambulance driver and paramedic.  Monty served initially with the Ottawa Ambulance Service then transferred to the Almonte Paramedic Unit and finally to Carleton Place Ambulance Service. His interest in ambulance driving resulted from a motorcycle accident at the age of 18, which had him holed up in an Ottawa hospital. That sojourn had him go from a patient, to a job as nursing orderly and then, to get his ”chauffeur’s licence“  in order to drive ambulance. For a week he tried to carry both jobs – Nursing Orderly and Ambulance Driver – but opted to go with driving!

As formative as most childhoods are, Monty’s instilled in him the pursuit of hard work and the eye for advancement opportunities. Perhaps it was the loss of his father when he was 6, the ailing mother who couldn’t care for the family, the subsequent custody by Children’s Aid, the time in a foster home and the convent school in Papineauville until he was 12… but by the time he was old enough to work Monty was delivering papers, working as a grocery pack-boy and serving customers at Mr. Donut in Ottawa’s Blossom Park neighbourhood. Frugal and goal-oriented, he had soon saved $325 to buy his first new motorcycle, a 500 cc Honda, which was quickly upgraded to a Triumph 650. And thus the wild and carefree years of young adulthood progressed, with drag-racing at shopping malls, a fondness for motorcycle gangs and run-ins with the police.

Clearly things could have gone very wrong for the young Monty, but in those early years he met, fell in love and, in 1974, married Colleen, whom he credits for changing his life for the good.  In 1983 they moved to Johanna St. in Almonte, the home in which their children, Christopher and Sarah were raised. And home it remains… thirty-four years later the Montgomerys, in retirement, have moved to a new house at the other end of the same street!

Continuous education and ongoing training were opportunities that Monty never let pass, understanding the importance of skills development for a young person’s job prospects. Perhaps he was somewhat ahead of the curve. According to the Ontario Paramedic Association, “What was once a job for someone with a heavy foot, chauffeur’s license, and a strong back has now [2008] evolved into a minimum 2-year Community College certificate program and a … University degree program in Paramedicine graduating with a BSc.” In the earlier times of Emergency Medical Services, Monty jumped at the chance to take a three-month, intensive Emergency Medical Care Assistant’s course at CFB Borden.  Then, when the Ontario government introduced the Paramedic Program in the early 1990’s, he enrolled and graduated, enabling him to transfer to the Almonte Paramedic Unit.

When an opportunity arose in 1993 to participate in the Fire Inspector’s course through the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office, Monty signed up, underwent training in Smiths Falls and took a second job in the role of Chief Fire Official /Fire Inspector for what was then the Almonte-Ramsay Fire Department. In the latter role Monty was part of the team investigating the massive gasoline leak and evacuation in Almonte’s downtown core in 1997.  He also helped the North Lanark Agricultural Society get a Trillium grant to upgrade fire safety at the historic fairgrounds buildings and grandstand. With his fire department training, Monty worked and volunteered at the Town’s many fireworks displays over the years, proudly claiming to this day the title of “First and Only Certified Pyrotechnician for Almonte”!

Monty’s service to the community as paramedic, fire inspector and school bus driver has also included 33 years of volunteer service with the Almonte Civitans. It’s a contribution that defies the challenges of his younger life, without the stability of family. While illness has reduced his role in service to the community, Monty still charms and entertains with disarming ease. For example, he points to the recent celebration of his “first birthday” – the anniversary of his immune system re-set due to his High-Dose Chemotherapy with Stem Cell Transplantation treatment to combat Multiple Myeloma, a somewhat rare cancer.

In this column, we celebrate the contribution to community made by our neighbours –  ordinary folk like you and I.  Whether it is the contribution to the education of children, the services of a restauranteur in anchoring a neighbourhood, or the volunteer who cares for us when we are ill, our social connection with each other is a tapestry woven by strong individuals with rich lives and generous spirits.  Monty, in addition to serving the community as a paramedic, a fire inspector, a bus driver and a Civitan reminds us that laughter, enjoyment, gratitude and service are what makes us a strong, collective family. Remember to send, post, Instagram or tweet your best wishes to “Monty the Bus Driver” for many more birthdays!