When the Blue Water Trolley pulled into Desmond Landing on Monday afternoon, longtime tour guide Pat “PJ” Jackson was hugged with an assembly line of congratulations.
The 70-year-old wears a bright green Port Huron T-shirt and anchor earrings and has been helping to showcase the city to residents and visitors for eight years. But Monday was her last day, and to celebrate her retirement, she greeted a small group of friends and family and joined the tour.
“I love full houses! OK, all right, everyone obviously knows who I am, ”Jackson said with a laugh over the packed car. Her voice was hoarse and soulful as she skipped her usual introduction.
“I have a lot from my family today. But obviously, I’m PJ, and I was born and raised here. I don’t want to cry. But I love the city, I really do. That’s why I’ve been doing this for eight years. I try to trust Port Huron to the people so that they can learn to love them too. “
The meeting had been arranged among friends and family and Widespread locally on social media.
Jackson saw the announcement but later admitted she wasn’t expecting as much welcome as she received, adding, “It warmed my heart. I didn’t know I was making such a big difference. “
She said she thought it was “just time to go – close one door and open another door”. She plans to visit Ireland with her daughter Jenni LaRue, spend more time with her son Keith and other family members, and of course, sleep after 9 a.m.
Bonnie Lentz, Blue Water Area Transit Operations Manager, said the Blue Water Trolley usually has two guides who take turns on a weekly basis throughout the season, and although they had two lined up to continue service, she admitted Jackson’s big footsteps were to be filled.
“It takes time,” she said, “and a lover of history makes a world of difference.”
“Such a gift to our community”
LaRue flew in from Texas late Sunday evening for the occasion.
After completing a full hour, she stepped off the aquamarine BWAT trolley at Desmond Landing to reflect on her family’s experience.
“She loves it so much and I don’t think she would have stopped, but she’s just tired and wants to spend time with us. I can’t believe I actually cried. I’m not crying anymore, ”LaRue said and laughed through tears. “She put her heart and soul into it. I remember when she started she came to see me and she brought all her papers and so on and laid them all out. She was very excited. “
Port Huron residents Nola Addison and Judy Grinder were among the regular drivers who greeted Jackson.
“I moved here five years ago and the following summer… I traveled twice. And I was the only one both times and she just taught me everything, ”Addison said.
“I’ve been driving it every year since I moved here. … she just knows everything. She grew up here, ”she added. “I don’t think anyone knows the city as well as they do, but I don’t know.”
Grinder, who broke cowbells to meet Jackson in Desmond, said the guide was “such a gift to our community”. She remembered her husband and Jackson’s brother “playing ball together” for years before trolley driving became another pastime.
“We went at least once every summer, and frankly, it’s one of the best highlights when the extended family comes to visit,” she said. “No matter what age or where they come from, they always want to ride.”
The final day of the trolley was ‘quite eventful’ for family and colleagues
Jackson could barely board the Blue Water Trolley half a block from Port Huron on Monday afternoon without telling another historical fact or anecdote.
Like the Harrington Hotel, which points out where future US President Harry Truman and his wife Bess stayed during their honeymoon, or the spot on the St. Clair River where Thomas Edison’s youth home once stood.
There were also countless other historic buildings, houses, and landmarks that Jackson pointed out – often in connection with her own memories.
LaRue said this was typical of her mother, including as she remembered growing up.
Originally, she said she first got the idea to become a tour guide when she was 21, during a Port Huron event, “Be A Tourist in Your Own Town”.
“She jumped on the trolley and you could tell from that moment she wanted to do it, and I’m 38 so it’s been a while,” said LaRue. “Marking your last day,” she said, was “pretty eventful” for the whole family.
Lentz said it was “hard to hold back tears” when a small group from the agency also greeted Jackson with flowers at the end of the day.
“As soon as we walked away from her we cried. But while she was there we tried to keep her together,” she said.
“She will definitely be missed by all of her employees and the community itself,” said Lentz. “She was a wealth of knowledge and her wit, smile, and restraint will surely be missed.”
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ Jackie20Smith.