Nov 3, 2023 - News

Nashville honors its first female bus driver

Elizabeth Duff at the wheel. Photo: Courtesy of WeGo Public Transit

Elizabeth Duff made history in 1974 when she took the wheel of a Nashville city bus.

  • She was the first woman to drive a Nashville bus.

Duff, also the first Black woman to drive a Nashville bus, faced discrimination along the way.

  • "You had those who didn't like it, who said a woman should stay at home," Duff told the Tennessean in 2004. "Some thought the bus was too large for me to handle."
  • But she kept driving.

The Tennessee Public Transportation Association named her Urban Driver of the Year in 2004. She retired three years later.

Flash forward: The city honored Duff's trailblazing impact last year by renaming WeGo's downtown bus terminal in her honor. On Thursday, city leaders and Duff's family came together to officially mark the renaming and honor Duff, who died in 2021.

  • WeGo unveiled new signage and plans for historical markers, while officials and family spoke about Duff's boundary-breaking legacy.

What they're saying: "Elizabeth was strong, and she was a person who wasn't confrontational. She always tried to avoid conflict on the bus. She drove at a time where there weren't even restrooms for women drivers," her husband Harry Duff Sr. said in a statement.

  • "She was truly a transit trailblazer in Nashville," WeGo CEO Steve Bland said.

Driving the news: Duff's love for the work was what drove her. She said in the 1970s that becoming a bus driver was the fulfillment of a dream. Her passion shone through even after decades on the job.

  • "I love the feel of it," Duff told the Tennessean in 2004. "I love to hear the sound of it. When you really drive, you feel the vehicle itself. You listen to the motor. You feel the road."

The bottom line: It turns out that passion was hereditary. Duff's son Seneca followed in her tire treads and is a WeGo driver.

  • "Elizabeth was a pioneer, born and raised here in Nashville," Mayor Freddie O'Connell said Thursday. "To the Duff family, I am here to say thank you for continuing this legacy."
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