SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA’s General VP Robert Driscoll succumbs to cancer

| 1/8/2003

By the Land Line staff

OOIDA General Vice President Robert Emmett Driscoll Jr., Laurel Springs, NJ, died Jan. 6, 2003.

Robert Emmett Driscoll Jr., 1934-2003

He was born in 1934 in Philadelphia. A professional truckdriver since the age of 20, Driscoll was deeply devoted to making trucking a better, safer place to work. He was a steadfast warrior, although fragile after a truck accident in the 1970s left him with injuries that hindered his ability to fight the cancer that eventually claimed his life.

Funeral services are planned for Friday, Jan. 10, at the St. Lawrence Catholic Church at 135 White Horse Pike in Lindenwold, NJ, (08021) with viewing from 9 to 11 a.m. and the Mass for the Resurrection at 11 o'clock. Interment will be at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA. He is survived by his beloved companion, Joanne M. Palladino.

Bob Driscoll grew up tough and smart on the mean streets of North Philly. He was a U.S. Navy veteran. He later made his home in Laurel Springs, NJ, part of the Philadelphia, PA-NJ metropolitan area. Before he was 20 years old, he made a decision that became his life commitment.

"I wanted to be a trucker," he told, "But in 1954, I couldn't get a job driving a truck if I had offered to do it for free." So he waded into trucking as an owner-operator.

"I was too young and nobody wanted me," he said. "I went out and bought a truck of my own, a 1941 K-5 International straight truck. And I did pretty good."

Driscoll said he made more money then than he did 35 years later when he owned five trucks.

Bob spent most of his trucking years pulling a tanker and hauling hazardous materials. For years, Bob was leased to Trailer Marine Transport hauling import freight. During those years, he said trucking dominated his life.

"You have to attach so much time to it, and it seems you spend all your time looking over your shoulder and wondering whose tax box you are going to fill next," he said.

Later, he called that period the best and worst of times. Trucking was a profession of fierce pride, but left little margin for other interests.

He was a life member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. He joined in August 1984 and, for a man who claimed to have little time for anything but trucking, was an untiring representative. The nearly 20 years of his life he dedicated to making trucking a better place to work yielded accomplishments that will forever distinguish him.

He talked tough, with that wise guy-East Coast way of talking, and you knew immediately you'd rather have him for a friend than an adversary. When Bob believed in something, he went to bat.

He was a member of the OOIDA board of directors and was involved with the industry on countless issues. For example, he believed in rigid training for truckers and was a former vice chairman of the Professional Truck Drivers Institute. A detail maniac, he worked with PTDI to produce the first manual created to teach truckdriver training. He served as general vice president of OOIDA and, as chairman of the Publications Committee, advised OOIDA's Land Line Magazine.

"The best things that come out of this job is the life experience itself, all of the people and the positive things that have touched me," he said. "You see so much, the expanse of it all. It gives you an idea of how things really work."

In the early 70s, Bob was involved in an accident that left him with injuries that would cause him health problems for the rest of his life. Working as an instructor at a driving school, Bob stepped up into the right side of a truck, intending to move it. The carburetor was leaking and the truck exploded, blowing Bob right out of the cab the same way he went in. He suffered burns and a concussion. The injuries wreaked havoc with his digestive system and immune system.

"This is a job that always places you in jeopardy," he said later. "When you go into trucking, you are leading with your chin. There's good things and bad. I've learned to walk between the raindrops."

And walk between the raindrops he did. When Bob was a young lad, he was an amateur boxer, which may explain why he was somehow able to get up every time he got knocked down.

His friend for 50 years, Thomas Tumelty, grew up six blocks from Bob. Their fathers worked together for 30 years in a local steel mill.

Tumelty, also a life member of OOIDA since 1987, recalls trucking with Bob after the accident.

"The explosion really robbed him of his health, but he was not to be knocked down," recalls Tom. "Bob used to say to me, 'you know what's wrong with us, Tommy? We keep getting back up!'"

By 1975, Bob had returned to trucking and was hauling chemicals and other bulk cargo. Later, doctors would speculate that unprotected exposure to the chemicals aggravated his respiratory system and left him with acute asthma and other problems.

Tom Tumelty and Bob were now team drivers.

"I will never forget a trip we took," Tumelty recalls. "We hauled two coils to Detroit and picked up a load. I had just had surgery on both knees. Well, one of my knees went out and I was in bad shape. Bob was too, as his lungs were giving him fits. He had a bad asthma attack and told me I was gonna have to drive. I said fine, but I could not climb up in the truck. I asked a guy there if he would lift me up in the truck so I could drive. He did. Then I asked him if he could lift the other guy up, too. He put Bob in the other side and off we went. Bob was tickled over the situation, and kept gasping 'don't make me laugh!'"

Because of his experience with trucking and hazmat (and his perfectionist attention to detail), Bob was very involved with hazmat training and response for years. When hazmat rules were developed, he served as OOIDA's representative.

Years ago, he appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show, discussing "toxic backhauls," the practice of using reefers to haul food one way and chemical or biohazardous stuff back. Bob vehemently criticized practices that could contaminate a load and thus poison thousands of unsuspecting people. Geraldo wanted someone from OOIDA on the show and most truckers would be a bit nervous about it, since Rivera's habit was to chew you up right on the show. Who from OOIDA could handle Geraldo and get the message across? It was, of course, Bob Driscoll.

About the same time, he represented truckers by presenting OOIDA testimony to members of the U.S. Congress. The lawmakers were discussing at one point the practice of hauling medical waste in reefers. Those who claimed a plastic-lined reefer trailer was sufficient protection had their say. Plastic was spread out on the floor and purported to be tear resistant. When it was Bob's turn to speak, he waved around a sample of this super-duty plastic and demonstrated how tear resistant it was by easily poking his finger right through it. It was very effective.

"Bob used to say people think we truckers can lift a ton, but can't spell it," recalls Tumelty. "He said that was to our advantage, as they think we're dumb but we're not."

Board member Ray Kasicki met Bob in 1992 at the "zero-base review" hearing in Washington, DC. Kasicki was there representing a small organization of truckers from Ohio.

"I showed him my statement and he made a few suggestions on how to present it," Ray recalls. "He invited me to have supper with him that evening and then to sit in the next morning on the discussion of problems in updating the DOT handbook. Needless to say, I was a bit impressed."

But what really impressed Ray the most that day was to come later.

"At this hearing, there was a woman from Texas who was a professional trucker," Ray says. "She testified that the number of tickets a driver gets really has no correlation to safety. She cited the miles she had driven and said she had never had an accident. To prove her point, she gave the committee a handful of tickets that had been issued to her.

"The safety groups in attendance really reacted to this, as well as the law enforcement officials and insurance companies in attendance. While some chastising was going on over the tickets, a single person began applauding in recognition of the point she had made. The rest of the truckdrivers there joined him and gave her a standing ovation. Driscoll, by himself, turned this crowd around, when no one else would stand up. Pure attitude.

"I have learned a lot from this guy, but that day he taught me you have to stand up for what you believe in, even though you are the only one willing to do so."

You can't talk about Bob's life without talking about his poetry. To the words that describe him, add "amazing." Bob wrote poetry -- beautiful, scripted poetry. He even published a book of his poetry. In fact, he served as president of the New Jersey Poetry Society.

Much of Bob's poetry was inspired by his companion of nearly 27 years, Joanne Palladino. He was proud of Joanne's accomplishments as an educator. When she retired to spend more time with him as he battled cancer, he was deeply moved by her sacrifice, knowing how much she loved teaching. He often described her as the one who owned his heart. She described him as a "stubborn Irishman" and an "ultimate humanitarian." He would see an elderly woman carrying heavy bags of groceries down the street in the cold and would stop to give her a ride home because he had seen her before, collecting for the Salvation Army on the street corner.

Another trucking friend is Bob Esler, fellow OOIDA officer. They met in the early '80s, participating as test drivers during the FMVSS 121 Brake Test in East Liberty, OH. Esler has described him as a walking encyclopedia on such items as chemicals, drugs (legal and otherwise) and driver training and safety. He pretty well nailed it when he said Bob has the "grit of a bull dog, blended with an Irish heritage with the street smarts to back it up."

"There are many people that have contributed significantly to the mission of OOIDA," Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said. "Mr. Driscoll has distinguished himself as one of the best. He was a good friend to trucking."

"He was the toughest man I ever knew," OOIDA President Jim Johnston said.

"Most of our members will not have heard about Bob because for the past 10 years, his health problems have kept him pretty much in the background. Even before that, Bob never sought or accepted personal recognition. His only goal in working with the association was to help assure that professional truckers received the best representation possible. He had a fierce dedication to that cause and a willingness to fight against any obstacle that got in the way.

"Even during the worst times of his illness, the association and its goals were foremost in Bob's thoughts, and he would consult with us and provide his input by phone," Johnston said. "I will sincerely miss Bob's advice and counsel and his friendship."

In the last years, Bob's battle with cancer and its complications frequently landed him in the hospital, a place he dreaded. Still, he found something positive there in watching the selfless daily duties of the nurses. He wrote this poem to them.

A Room Full of Angels

Her soft smiling voice spoke
She led me through the doors
The rest were there
With hidden wings as well.

With endless loving care
They fill the room
With only the sound of
Their fluttering wings.

They take your cares
Your fears
To put them where
Angels put such things.

They touch you into sleep
Tenderly taking you
To an existence of peace
To where these Angels fly.

To where these Angels fly
Where they care for their charge
Out of harm's way
To the feel of their Angels wings.

To then awake
To their glowing faces
To their disappearing halos
To the touch of these Angels

These Angels
Who hide their wings.

Robert Emmett O'Driscoll Jr.