Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Juliana Carey, 12, and sister Olivia Carey, 6, place flowers and a homemade card at a memorial for GCPS bus driver Sue Fenton at the entrance way of the Connemara neighborhood in Lawrenceville Wednesday. Miss Sue drove Juliana to school for the past six years and Olivia since the beginning of this school year.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- For generations of children in the Connemara subdivision, the school bus did not come every morning.
"The bus driver" did not stop and let them catch up when they were running late, or call their parents to make sure someone was home to let them in.
"The bus driver" did not park the bus to wait for mom or dad to drop off temporarily forgotten homework. "The bus driver" didn't lead them all in happy songs every Friday, or lead choruses of "Happy Birthday" on each rider's special day.
Miss Sue did all that.
"These were her children," mom Michelle Carey said. "These were not people on a bus. Every kid that got on that bus was her child, and she took care of them as if they were her children."
Sue Fenton, better known as Miss Sue, started driving a bus for Gwinnett County Public Schools on Sept. 19, 1984, rarely missing a day of work for nearly 29 years. Everyone's favorite Southern-twanged granny -- "98 pounds soaking wet" with an affinity for waves, hugs and first-day photos -- spent most of that time toting students of Gwin Oaks Elementary and Brookwood High back and forth from Lawrenceville's Connemara neighborhood.
"I'm told that during her career with GCPS, she was recognized several times for perfect attendance, an outstanding safety record, and willingness to support her co-workers with doing additional routes," schools spokesman Jorge Quintana said.
A stranger is now running those routes. Miss Sue passed away Sunday after a heart attack. Flowers, balloons and well wishes now adorn the bus stops of Connemara.
The children -- and their parents -- are taking the loss of a loved one hard.
Said Alex Carey, a 2011 Brookwood grad: "She cared about you as a person, what you were doing, how life was going."
Kaylee Pham, 8: "Whenever I got off the bus she'd always give me a hug."
Taylor Pope, 12: "She would stop if we left our homework, and she would wait for our parents to bring it."
Maddy Stanitzke, a Brookwood senior: "She really cared about everybody, individually, as a person, and knew everybody's name ... Every time I hear the bus go by, I think, 'Oh, Miss Sue's in there, I should go say hi.'"
Miss Sue is survived by Melvin, her husband of 48 years, as well as her daughter, son-in-law and 11-year-old grandson (who all live in Connemara).
The stories, though, are what really keep her alive.
When Mary K. Maseltski first moved to the neighborhood five years ago, her soon-to-be kindergartner son was terrified of strangers. Miss Sue bent the rules to make him comfortable -- she showed up a week before school started, and let the youngster check out the bus, meet her, sit in her seat.
"I would've been one of those moms that drove every day," Masletski said. "But because of her, because of her warmth and how much she cares about the kids, I let him ride the bus."
Julie Pope, whose 10- and 12-year-old daughters rode with Miss Sue, actually wrote a two-page essay about their beloved bus driver.
"On occasion, a mom would run late to pick up their child from the bus stop," she wrote, "and Miss Sue was notorious for driving the child around the neighborhood until the parent arrived home."
A group of kids and parents gathered around a message board near the Connemara entrance this week to lay flowers on the ground. The sign screamed "WE LOVE AND MISS YOU MISS SUE!", drawing attention to a larger version of makeshift memorials that later popped up at bus stops throughout the neighborhood.
As they reminisced about historic rides and cellphone calls -- "She was always worried about 'my supervisor'" and "Uh, Rita, I just passed your stop and you're not there" -- Miss Sue's son-in-law and grandson stopped by to give their own thanks.
"This just means so much to us, it really does," Derek Jacoby, the teary son-in-law, said. "She loved you all like you were her children."