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Her name is Catherine Brutzman, but she has been known by the students on her school bus as "Mrs. B.” And she's been driving for so long that some of the first children she drove are now grandparents.
“I guess I never thought of it as a career, but it's a way of life for me, and I can't imagine not doing it,” she told TODAY. “And this is my last year. I'm retiring, and it's going to be difficult.”
Carson Daly, a father of three, knew he wanted to "Pay It Forward" to Brutzman, 76, as a way to recognize the work and care she and all bus drivers take when transporting children safely to and from school each day.
"We take for granted that these drivers bring our children home safe everyday," Daly said. "We're excited to see the kids but we often overlook the men and women who are doing that work."
Brutzman thinks she has driven about 1.75 million miles over the past 45 years, but admitted "that is a conservative estimate.” She has logged more than 80,000 hours on her rural Connecticut routes, and she boasts flawless driving and attendance records.
Born and raised in Higganum, Connecticut, Brutzman started driving a bus when she was 31. She gets up every school day at 4:30 in the morning and leaves the house by 6.
Over the years, the joy she gleans from the children she sees has helped soothe personal loss she has experienced. In 1979, her 17-year-old son died in a car accident. She lost her husband to brain cancer 17 years later.
“You don't learn anything if your life is easy, and you have no problems. But you do learn from tragedy and hardship, if you choose to,” she said.
Because Carson was in Los Angeles hosting “The Voice,” he wasn't able to attend a surprise retirement party thrown last week for Brutzman, but he sent her a video message and an invitation to visit him on TODAY in New York.
On Friday, Carson got to congratulate "Mrs. B" in person. He also delivered a retirement gift, a weeklong stay at a resort in Denver, Colorado.
Brutzman reflected on the highlights of her long, sterling career.
“I never thought about 45 years of driving, The people I’ve met, the relationship I have with the children, and I still have, it’s amazing to me,” she said. “Our town is small, and I’ll go to a store or the gas station, and someone now that has a grey beard goes, ‘Mrs. B! Mrs. B!’ That means a lot.”
This story is part of NBCUniversal's Season of Kindness. Together we can grow the good this holiday season. #ShareKindness