Let’s say you were a new-to-town TCAT rider and were not sure if you were on the right bus? Or that you were a new bus driver trying to figure out the quirks of a certain route?
Rest assured, you would have been in luck if David Barber of Caroline were on board with you. He’d have likely sensed your discomfort and would have been right by your side easing your worries by telling you how to get to your destination.
A frequent bus rider for 35 years, Barber knew TCAT’s route alignments, time tables and stops better — well, probably better than anybody in Tompkins County — so much so that TCAT staff long ago began referring to him fondly as “TCAT Dave.”
Sadly, in fall of 2019, at 64, the lifelong resident of Tompkins County passed away leaving a vacancy in TCAT buses and in the hearts of many of his fellow travelers. Knowing his love for his local transit system, Dave’s family members reached out to TCAT Assistant General Manager Mike Smith to tell him they would like to donate $4,000 to TCAT in his honor. Smith figured the best approach would be for TCAT to dedicate a bus shelter in his name at the Caroline Town Hall bus stop, not far from where Dave lived.
The family agreed and Smith worked with Town of Caroline officials who installed a new landing pad for the shelter and landscaped its surroundings. Finally, on Tues., April 13, after months of planning and pandemic-related delays, TCAT representatives joined with four generations of the Barber family, including Dave’s mother, Priscilla, family friends, and local officials to officially dedicate the Slaterville Road shelter. The dedication included the unveiling of a permanent plaque affixed to the shelter with an inscription, written by Dave’s niece, Cara Nichols, that says:
“In memory of “TCAT Dave” (David Barber 1955-2019) whose kindness and spirit brightened the lives of so many along life’s route.”
In a statement on behalf of the Barber family, Dave’s brother, Don Barber, said his late sibling was gifted with relentless optimism: “No matter how gloomy the weather or his persistent health issues, Dave always had a smile and was truly interested in everyone. TCAT riders and drivers alike were the daily beneficiaries. And Dave loved TCAT, it was his connector to Tompkins County.”
Long before he started working for TCAT in 2011, Smith had been employed at the former Mayer’s, an iconic downtown newsstand, where he knew Dave as a frequent and friendly customer. But when Smith started working for TCAT he had no idea who his fellow drivers were talking about when they mentioned a “TCAT Dave.” One day, Smith boarded the bus he was about to drive and was startled when someone behind him swiped the sunglasses off his head. Upon turning around, he discovered the prankster was his old friend, who inquired with his classic mischievous grin: “So, you are working here too?”
For Smith, meeting Dave again was fortuitous. And, it soon became obvious why Dave earned his TCAT moniker. “He knew every route like the back of his hand; he was always a resource to new operators,” Smith said. “Being ‘let loose’ and going out on the road for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Dave made things a bit easier when trying to remember which version of the route was running, especially the Caroline route 52, which Dave rode to travel back and forth from home.”
Smith added: “To this day, when I pass by a long stretch of mailboxes on Slaterville Road, I can see him standing there waving. Now, we also have this shelter to remember him by.”
TCAT Veteran Board Member Frank Proto joined fellow Board Members Laura Lewis and current board Chairperson Dan Klein, and TCAT staffers, including General Manager Scot Vanderpool, at the ceremony. Proto said he and Dave, both residents of the Caroline area, would frequently ride the bus together. Proto, who served as board chairperson several times over the years, said Dave was always eager to provide feedback, providing insights on how the transit system was doing. Said Proto, giving the honoree yet another title: “Dave was TCAT’s first ambassador.”