A former homeless man has been crowned London’s top bus driver, after spending only 16 months on the job. His reputation climbed to the top because he never stops smiling—despite battling traffic gridlock every day.
Pat Lawson is over the moon about his new title. The 50-year-old says his cheerful disposition was reborn when he finally managed to land on his feet following a “dark and vicious cycle” of homelessness, crime, drug abuse, and prison time.
“My mum gave me advice and I didn’t take it,” says Lawson. “I was hot-headed in school and got expelled. I went to prison for stealing cars and met hardened criminals, ended up there again and started a dark and vicious cycle.”
The cycle escalated until the father-of-three met a defining moment 16 years ago when an unprovoked attack left him in the hospital fighting for his life and questioning his bad choices.
“I thought I was going to die and I started thinking of my children. I knew it was life or death. I kept thinking, how did I end up in this situation?” says Lawson. “And that’s when I said, I need help. I wanted to climb out of the gutter.”
Lawson was given the chance to turn his life around when he crossed paths with volunteers from the Single Homeless Project (SHP). The charity retrained Pat as a bus driver, and he says that he immediately fell in love with the job.
“I’ll say good morning to every single passenger and give them a big smile,” Lawson remarked. “I was told it wouldn’t last long but passengers told me to keep on going.”
From searching London’s streets for somewhere to sleep, optimistic Pat can now be found cheerily greeting passengers on the 26 bus from Hackney Wick to Waterloo. Since starting the job in March 2017, he has won two awards and received more than 100 acknowledgments from members of the public.
In July, he won Transport for London (TfL’s) Hello London Award for Outstanding Customer Service after receiving 45 commendations from passengers. Then, in October, he scooped up the Top London Bus Driver prize at the UK Bus Awards with 66 public reviews.
Pat’s extraordinary journey doesn’t stop there, either – he is already planning to write a book about his turbulent experiences as a means of helping others who may be trapped in a “dark hole”.
“The key is having the determination to change,” added the driver. “I have been at rock bottom but it was the support from the charities … that has really helped me.”
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