A WELL-KNOWN coach driver who has taken generations of children to school across the Tyne Valley is retiring after more than 50 years on the roads.

Eighty-eight-year-old Raymond Johnson started Johnsons Minibuses in 1966 with his wife Eunice, who had been asked by a friend to help ferry children to and from school in the family’s car. They couple bought their first bus in 1970, and the business grew from there, later involving their two children Neil and Shirley, who worked with the company for several years.

At it’s busiest time, the family were driving more than 1,000 miles a week between their six cars and three buses.

Over the years, Raymond has taken children to Ovingham Middle School, Prudhoe High School, Highfield Middle School and Ovingham First School.

“I have been stopped in the streets by people who remember me when they were children,” Raymond said. “They tell me I haven’t changed one bit, but I can’t always remember them because they’re 20 or 30 years older.”

More than 70 guests attended Raymond’s surprise retirement party last week.

They included former teachers, pupils and staff from the schools he worked with, along with past employees and co-workers.

“It was a shock to see so many people there,” Raymond said. “And I’ve got Shirley to thank for arranging it all.

“I had so many nice cards and notes from people who I hadn’t seen in years. It’s been quite emotional reading them all actually.

“People have been asking me for years when I’m going to retire and I’ve always told them that the thought had never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until my licence came up for renewal that I thought, now is the right time to step back.”

On his plans for retirement, Raymond said he was thinking about taking an Alaskan cruise with his family to celebrate.