Clay County school bus driver who planned to retire dies after contracting COVID-19

A Clay County school bus driver has died of COVID. Tonight her husband tells News4jax why he thought for sure he was going to bring her home, instead he lost his best friend

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Gail Brusseau, 66, spent 26 years driving children to school in Clay County. In recent years, she carried students with special needs to class and back home five days a week.

Brusseau spent an even longer time -- 41 years -- by her husband Bill’s side. When the pandemic hit, Brusseau had to decide whether to keep her job.

Her husband, Bill, begged her to retire.

“She said, ‘No, I want to go one more year,’” her husband told News4Jax. “She said, ‘If you’re going to go one more year, I am going to go one more year.’"

Her husband said that Brusseau came home one day and changed her mind, announcing she would retire in December. But a few weeks into the school year, she became ill.

“About the third week of school, she started feeling sick. So, we both went and got tested,” her husband said. “She tested positive. I tested negative. We went to our family doctor right away. Our family doctor did a test and that one was positive and he strongly urged her to be taken to the hospital and I took her to Orange Park (Medical).”

There, Brusseau started out FaceTiming with her husband every day with the help of her nurses. The calls turned to text messages. Then, Brusseau’s husband got a call from the hospital saying she needed to go to an intensive care unit.

“She had to be sedated and she couldn’t speak, but she could hear. So what the nurses would do is put the phone up to her ear. I would talk to her. I would sing to her. My kids went every day. I went every day and even though she was in a semi-comatose -- she could hear us and that was frightening to me,” Brusseau’s husband said. “Because I had never seen her like that.”

Bill Brusseau said she was in an ICU for 31 days. She was then put on life support.

“Her wishes were not to live on life support," he said.

Gail Brusseau passed away on Oct. 9.

On Wednesday, Gail Brusseau’s co-workers at Clay County Schools Transportation parked her bus outside the lot and placed flowers along the wheels and the front of the bus. With tears in his eyes, Bill Brusseau spoke to a picture of his wife saying, “I love you my sweetheart. I will always love you.”

The Clay County School District said it has been following procedures and protocols to clean the bus after each route at the end of the day and has required students wear masks and use assigned seating, but Bill Brusseau believes the rules haven’t been enforced strictly.

“She was taken from me because some people don’t seem to understand that this COVID thing can hit anybody. We are all in this together, and we are all in this together not just to protect ourselves, but to protect each other. That didn’t happen here and that’s how she got it,” said Bill Brusseau.

Clay Schools said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our employee, Gail Brusseau. We want to extend our sincere condolences to her family and friends. Gail was dedicated to Clay County District Schools working as a bus driver for more than 20 years. We are thankful for her service and will honor her legacy.”

The school district didn’t immediately answer questions regarding how many of its drivers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year or how many are quarantined due to active infections. The school district also didn’t answer questions asking if they had an issue with bus operators and students following their guidelines.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.