Raleigh's first female CAT driver retiring after 35 years

After more than 35 years of service, the City of Raleigh's first female Capital Area Transit driver is retiring and "will finally get a good night's sleep," the city announced Friday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After more than 35 years of service, the City of Raleigh’s first female Capital Area Transit driver is retiring and "will finally get a good night's sleep," the city announced Friday.

Since June 23, 1977, JoAnn Satterwhite’s day has begun at 1:45 a.m. Her last day will be Aug. 31.

While she says she has loved her time behind the wheel, Satterwhite admits that she is looking forward to sleeping late on Sept. 1.

“Oh Lord,” she laughed. “That’s going to be nice. To be able to get a normal night’s sleep sounds really good."

Before becoming a supervisor in 1989, she "boasted a perfect driving record and was admired by her coworkers for her cheery disposition and strong work ethic," according to the city.

But skill and a good attitude weren’t enough to placate those who thought a woman had no place driving a bus, she said.

“When they first hired me, the bus depot was on West Street,” Satterwhite said. “There were no facilities for women. There weren’t any women’s restrooms or anything. If I needed to use the restroom, someone had to stand outside the door to make sure no one else came in. It was definitely a man’s world.”

Capital Area Transit Supervisor Robert Deaton chose Satterwhite from 110 applicants. A month after she began, Deaton told her that he was confident that he had chosen well, she recalled.

“He told me that when he interviewed me, he thought I was a go-getter,” she said. “After a little while on the job, he said that he had been right. He said that people had called in and given me a lot of nice compliments.”

Not everyone was so ready to accept being driven around by a woman. One morning, Satterwhite picked up her first load on Martin Street. A man saw her and said aloud that he wouldn't ride a bus being driven by a woman.

"While the other passengers implored the resister to make up his mind (as they had to get to work), he refused to ride," according to the city. "Upon arriving at their destination, the passengers all applauded and complimented Ms. Satterwhite’s skill."

The resistance wasn’t limited to passengers. Some of her fellow drivers were not happy that a woman had joined their ranks, she recalled. Having a woman in their midst meant that they might have to curb their profanity and dress a little smarter, taking care to tuck in their shirts and button their collars, she said.

“I told them they needed to be doing that anyway,” she laughed. “Who said it’s a man’s job? I need a paycheck and this job pays pretty good. A lot of them resented it. But once I got a foot in the door, people liked me and changed their minds.”

Driving always came naturally for Satterwhite. Growing up on a farm, she learned to operate a tractor at an early age. She also had a brother who drove a tractor-trailer, and he put her behind the wheel and showed her how to operate a large vehicle.

Those skills were extremely useful in 1977. While today's CAT riders board a new fleet of buses, those riding city buses in 1977 weren’t so fortunate.

“A lot of the buses didn’t have heat or air conditioning,” Satterwhite said. “They also only had one mirror. You had to turn the mirror so it faced to the right and you could see your wheels. You did what you had to do. I tell my drivers now that they don’t know how good they have it.”

Still, despite the cramped conditions of the original transit office, the early resistance to a female driver and dated equipment, Satterwhite said she considers herself extremely lucky to have found both a job and fellow coworkers she loves so much.

“Except for having to get up at 1:45 a.m.,” she said. “Other than that, I have no complaints.”