The skies were blue at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal last Thursday, but as word traveled that a beloved ferry worker was working his last shift there, the mood for many passengers turned gloomy.
Bruce Brown, who has scanned tickets and waived passengers onto the ferry with remarkable cheerfulness since 2002, has moved on to Bremerton. On his break last Thursday, he explained the reason for his move — and his feelings behind it. In order for a work-related ankle injury to heal, his doctor advised him to get off his feet — something not possible at Fauntleroy, where he worked four 10-hour shifts a week and was on his feet eight hours a day. In Bremerton, he will only stand for two hours a day, he said, and will log far less than the 10 miles he walked each shift at Fauntleroy. He did not sound like he was relishing the change.
“I hate sitting,” he said — but true to his upbeat demeanor, he said it with a full, warm laugh.
He also made clear he was leaving behind not just customers, but friends.
“I call them my extended family,” he said. “You just get a rapport with them. It snowballs, and it is an amazing thing when that happens.”
Word of his impending departure spread furiously days earlier on Facebook, where one person wanted to start a petition to keep him at Fauntleroy — not realizing he had requested the transfer — and others lamented the news. In one Facebook thread, more than 80 people weighed in about Brown and his renowned good cheer.
“I feel a little bit of extra joy when I pass him in the mornings on my way off the ferry. He should know that when I see his face in the morning, it makes my day better,” Annette Messitt wrote.
“This man is one of the best example of humanity I have seen in these parts. I love him and don’t even know him. I will miss him, wish we could clone him,” Nancy Wolff added.
Linda Henley said she cried at the news of his departure.
“It is amazing how such simple acts of kindness toward other human beings, even strangers, makes such a profound difference in our lives. The ferry commute isn’t always fun, but this one man…with his daily waves and smiles… brightened our days. We should all pledge to pay it forward, as a way to thank him,” she wrote.
The dock supervisor at Fauntleroy, Tom Rantz, who has worked with Brown for years, shared the same sentiment that he had shared about Brown previously.
“I wish I could clone him,” he said on Thursday.
He added that he had previously thought Brown’s last shift would be April 29, but he had learned that day would be his last, so he rushed out to buy a cake.
“I really respect him and the personal energy and professionalism he brings every day,” Rantz said. “We would love to have him here longer.”
For the past four years, Brown worked the Fauntleroy dock, but before that he worked on Vashon — and the island figures into some of his favorite memories of working the famed triangle route. Among them: people traveling on the ferry on their way to the hospital to give birth, spending time with Springer the whale when she lingered off the Fauntleroy dock, and going to the Strawberry Festival and learning about the history of the island.
He added that he got to know some people well enough that they invited them to events at their homes.
“No way will that happen in Bremerton,” he said. “There is a different feeling on the island.”
Brown says part of what keeps him in a good mood is that he lets go of things he can’t change and addresses problems he can change.
“That’s what I try to live by,” he added.
And so, he is heading to Bremerton, where he will work Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. And if islanders happen to be in the area, they should be sure to say hello.
“Absolutely, without a doubt,” he said, the smile clear in his voice.