‘Mr. Malvia’ honored by state association
Published 8:58 pm Saturday, March 21, 2015
Many people in Beaufort County will remember Mr. Malvia: for 41 years he was a familiar face, as a school bus driver first, then the school system’s supervisor and mechanic. People were drawn to his shop in the afternoons for advice and conversation; he hosted an annual oyster roast and invited the supervisors and mechanics of the North Carolina Transportation Department. They came from across the state.
Malvia Harris Sr. oversaw the transformation of school buses from a fleet of four 16-passenger Hackney-built Model-T buses that had to be hand-cranked to a fleet of 103 Thomas-built buses that met state-legislated crash and collision requirements, at the time of his retirement. Recently, Malvia Harris Sr. was inducted into the North Carolina Pupil Transportation Association Hall of Fame for his body of work, keeping the buses running and making a statewide impact on student transportation.
Malvia Harris Sr. served as the first presiding president of NCPTA and, with the help of local state legislators, was instrumental in putting into law changes that made riding the bus a safer proposition with the addition of stop signals, blinking stop lights, heating and crossed-seating arrangements on buses.
In a 1972 interview, Malvia Harris Sr. said started his career when most rural eastern Carolina schoolchildren dropped out of school after seventh grade. It was the implementation of transportation to school that shaped the evolution of education here, he said.
“It was pretty much an honor for him to drive a bus. Back then, students drove the buses,” said Malvia Harris Sr.’s son, Joe Harris.
By the time the country was immersed in World War II, Malvia Harris Sr. was a supervisor, married and living out in the county.
“Everything was rationed, including gas. He heated the house with a wood heater in the living room and his country bus drivers would keep it filled with wood in exchange for gas stamps. They were courting — he was not,” Joe Harris laughed.
“When North Carolina first got school buses, they were maintained by the state highway shops, and our father, Walter Bowen and Ernest Gurkin were hired by the state to maintain the buses. A few years later, they moved maintenance back to the county and hired those same three men, and our father was made supervisor because he had graduated high school,” Joe Harris said.
At his father’s original garage on John Small Avenue, where a Walgreens stands today, Malvia Harris Jr. not only learned to drive on a cut-down version of a bus that used to give buses with dead batteries a running start, but many other lessons, as well.
“Besides me learning to drive on that old hot rod, when I got old enough, I drove a school bus. But from probably second and third grade on, I’d go out to garage to hang out with the mechanics and go on service calls,” Malvia Harris Jr. said. “I was taught a lot and learned a lot.”
That same education was dispensed to many people who came through the garage on John Small Avenue and its later location on Smaw Road.
“Most any young boy that he hired, most worked with him until they retired. A few went on from there to become supervisors in other counties,” Malvia Harris Jr. said.
The Harris brothers describe their father as someone who was universally appreciated — it even says so on his gravestone: “Loved by all who knew him.”
“He knew everybody in the county and everybody knew him,” Joe Harris said. “He was very good at what he did.”
That the NCPTA, the organization Malvia Harris Sr. helped found, has included their father in its Hall of Fame is a mark of honor for the Harris brothers, they said.