When the Blue Water Trolley arrived at Desmond Landing Monday afternoon, longtime tour guide Pat “PJ” Jackson was greeted with a string of congratulatory hugs.
The 70-year-old, dressed in a bright green Port Huron t-shirt and anchor earrings, has helped introduce the city to residents and visitors for eight years. But Monday marked her last day, and to celebrate her retirement, a small crowd of friends and family greeted her and walked around.
“I love packed halls! OK, okay, obviously everyone knows who I am, ”Jackson said with a laugh of the full cart. Her voice was hoarse and emotional as she skipped her usual introduction.
“I have a big part of my family today. But of course, I’m PJ, and I was born and raised here. I don’t want to cry. But I love the city, really. That’s why I did this for eight years. Trying to introduce people to Port Huron, so that they learn to love it too.
The rally was organized among friends and family and widely promoted locally on social media.
Jackson saw the ad but later admitted she didn’t expect as warm a welcome as the one she received, adding, “It made my heart warm. I didn’t know I had made such a big difference.
She said she thought it was “just time to go – close one door and open another door”. She plans to visit Ireland with her daughter, Jenni LaRue, as well as spend more time with her son Keith and other family members, and of course, sleep after 9 a.m.
Bonnie Lentz, operations manager for Blue Water Area Transit, said the Blue Water Trolley typically has two guides who alternate weeks during the season, and although they have lined up to continue the service, she admitted that Jackson was big shoes to fill.
“It takes time,” she said, “and being a lover of history makes a big difference.”
“Such a gift for our community”
LaRue arrived from Texas late Sunday night for the occasion.
After completing a full hour, she got off the BWAT aquamarine cart at Desmond Landing to reflect on her family’s experience.
“She loves it so much, and I don’t think she would have stopped, but she’s just tired and she wants to hang out with us.” I can’t believe I cried. I’m not crying anymore, ”LaRue said, letting out a laugh through a few tears. “She put all her heart and soul into it. I remember when she started, she came to visit me, and she brought all her papers and things like that and laid them all out. She was getting all excited.
Port Huron residents Nola Addison and Judy Grinder were among the regular runners who came to greet Jackson.
“I moved here five years ago and the following summer… rode there twice. And I was the only one there both times, and she taught me everything, ”Addison said.
“I’ve been riding it every year since I moved here. … She knows everything. She grew up here, ”she added. “I don’t think anyone knows the city as well as she does, but I don’t know.”
Grinder, who took out bells to meet Jackson in Desmond, said the guide was “such a gift to our community.” She recalled how her husband and Jackson’s brother “played ball together for years” before the cart became another hobby.
“We’ve been riding at least once a summer, and it’s honestly one of the best times when extended family comes to visit us,” she said. “No matter how old they are, where they are from, they still want to ride.”
The last day of the tram “quite hectic” for family and colleagues
Jackson could hardly walk half a block from Port Huron aboard the Blue Water Trolley on Monday afternoon without announcing another historical fact or anecdote.
Like the Harrington Hotel, indicating where future US President Harry Truman and his wife Bess stayed on their honeymoon, or the place along the St. Clair River that marked the location of the childhood home of Thomas Edison.
There were also countless other historic buildings, homes, and landmarks that Jackson highlighted – often entangled in the conversation with his own memories.
LaRue said it was typical of her mother, including, she recalls, when they were growing up.
Originally, she said they first came up with the idea of being a guide when they were 21 at a “Be a Tourist in Your Own Town” event in Port Huron.
“She hopped in the cart, and you could tell from that point on she wanted to do it, and I’m 38, so it’s been a while,” LaRue said. “Marking her last day,” she said, has been “pretty hectic” for the whole family.
Lentz said it was “hard to hold back tears” when a small group from the agency also greeted Jackson at the end of the day with flowers.
“As soon as we got away from her we cried. But while she was there we tried to stay the course,” she said.
“She will certainly be missed by all of her colleagues and the community itself,” said Lentz. “She has been a wealth of knowledge, and her wit, smile and hesitation will surely be missed.”
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ Jackie20Smith.