FERGUS, Ont. - To say the last 12 months have been a banner year for owner/operator Merv Connolly would be a gross understatement. The accolades and recognition he has received over the past year are ...
VACATION-BOUND: Owner/operator of the Year Merv Connolly and wife, Donna, will be enjoying a vacation for two as part of the award.
AMBASSADOR: Connolly is not only a lifesaver, but also a savvy businessman who knows his operating costs.
FERGUS, Ont. – To say the last 12 months have been a banner year for owner/operator Merv Connolly would be a gross understatement. The accolades and recognition he has received over the past year are the kind of rewards most drivers only dream about. But for Connolly, his award-winning year has been an awesome reality, as he topped things off with his most recent win as the 13th Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year.
Connolly was presented with a plaque and an engraved diamond ring by Truck News executive editor James Menzies and publisher Rob Wilkins at the 21st annual Fergus Truck Show July 21. The award also includes a $3,000 RESP and a paid vacation for two to the destination of his choice.
He also received numerous other prizes from sponsors: Freightliner; Markel Insurance; and Goodyear.
Connolly said being nominated by his current employer, L.E. Walker Transport, was a real honour for him, especially given the high status of the award.
“When I heard that L.E. Walker had put my name in for the award, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a nationwide magazine. We’re dealing with all of Canada here,'” he said. “You can’t get any better than the top. It’s like receiving an Academy Award.”
But a well-earned reward on Connolly’s part. The industry veteran has not only earned respect as a safe driver – having amassed nearly five million collision-free kilometres over 38 years – he also gained Truck News’ respect for his lifesaving efforts involving four students from St. Clair College in January of 2005.
Connolly was driving down Hwy. 401 towards Windsor, Ont. when he saw a car upside down in the ditch. The crash looked serious as smoke and flames were coming up from under the car’s front wheel, so Connolly pulled over in front of another truck that had already stopped. One of the crash victims appeared okay, climbing up the side of the ditch as Connolly approached, but two others had been thrown from the vehicle. One was laying in water that had accumulated from the wet winter weather and Connolly quickly pulled him out of the pool. He then went to attend to another victim that had been thrown even further. The further victim kept calling out, “In the car! In the car!” so Connolly went to check out the wreckage.
Sure enough, Connolly peered underneath to find the driver still in his seat, as the car’s roof had been torn back, pinning his arms down. With the help of the driver who had stopped and a police officer that arrived on the scene, Connolly was able to lift the wreckage up and allow the driver to safely crawl out the back window. With the driver free, Connolly went to tend to the victim who was calling out to him earlier who was now having trouble staying conscious.
“He kept wanting to kneel and pray which is their tradition when they feel like they’re going to die,” said Connolly of the victim, who was of South Asian descent. “I kept him upright because he kept wanting to lay down and sleep. He was in pretty bad shape. I’m glad I kept him alert because if he had gone to sleep, he could have died.”
When the ambulance finally arrived, Connolly spoke with one of the young victims to see what had gone wrong.
“I said to the one young lad, ‘What happened?’ He said it was the driver’s birthday who was showing off how good he could drive when he lost control of the car. He hydroplaned on the water and went into the ditch. One kid went flying through the windshield, the other one went flying through the door and the third one flew out faster than the car and the car hit him again and threw him in the water in the ditch. The furthest one got thrown maybe 100 feet from the car, but he didn’t get hurt. He had a couple of bruises but not even a cut,” Connolly recalled. “All of them said they weren’t wearing their seatbelts. Not a smart move. They were lucky to be alive.”
At this point, when speaking to Truck News, Connolly becomes gravely serious.
“These kids, none of them had their seatbelts on. One just about lost his life and the other three got hurt. I’m in one of the safest vehicles on the road. I wear my seatbelt all the time. If I got in a major accident, I would probably walk away. Anybody in a car that gets in a major accident is lucky to be alive. I’m in the safer vehicle and I wear my seatbelt. Please, people that drive cars, put your seatbelts on because it will save your life.”
Connolly’s efforts during the accident were not overlooked, as he was awarded the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner’s Citation for Lifesaving. On top of that, he also earned the Ontario Trucking Association/Volvo Trucks Canada Driver of the Year Award for 2005. These awards went along with the recognition he had already received from the Ontario Safety League for his long years of accident-free driving.
Considering all the recognition Connolly has received over the past year, one might think the allure of winning awards would wear off for him. But Connolly says the feeling is far from old.
“It’s shocking every time. It just blows my mind to be recognized by my peers,” he says. “You can work 38 years and never get recognized – and be doing a good job – but you just keep doing it. So to be recognized is just bonus.”
Needless to say, the folks at L.E. Walker have had their expectations met and exceeded since they snagged Connolly in 2004.
“We at L.E. Walker Transport are honoured to have Merv within our driver ranks. We are proud of all our drivers and extremely proud of Merv’s accomplishments. We thank him for his dedication to this industry and the public while on the road,” said Julie Tanguay, president of L.E. Walker.
“His performance on the highway has been outstanding,” said Walker’s maintenance manager, Bill Arthur, an award-winner himself, having been named the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year in 2005. “His everyday performance while out on the highway sharing the road with the motoring public speaks for itself. Merv is the type of driver that all other drivers should be modeled after, and we at L.E. Walker Transport are very privileged and proud to be associated with (him).”
“It is an awesome company to work for. They are the best,” Connolly says. “I know Walker has really high standards for their drivers, so I feel quite privileged for them to hire me.”
So now with nearly 50 years of trucking experience under his belt (if you go back to a six-year-old Connolly riding in a coal truck with his older brothers) what will be next on the accomplishment list of such decorated driver?
“I would love to accomplish 40 years of accident-free driving. I don’t know of anybody that has that. I will at least make it to my 39th accident-free year as long as everybody out there on the road cooperates with me,” he says.
Some time soon Connolly hopes to slow down his schedule a bit, spending more time at home with his wife Donna in Dutton, Ont., who beamed with pride when her husband received his prize from Truck News.
“I’m proud of him. I’ve always been proud of him, even before all these awards, but this is something special,” she told Truck News with a smile. “It’s nice to see that other people recognize him for the same things that I already do. I think even if we won the lottery, I don’t think it would feel quite so good as winning this award.”
Connolly said he will probably spend his time fishing, gardening or finally building the hobby car he’s always wanted. The OTA has also approached Connolly to become a Road Knight after he decides to slow down, a job that would keep him in the industry even into his retirement. But for a driver like Connolly, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I took some time off a while back and was driving down the 401 in my car when a transport whizzed past me and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I miss that noise.’ I don’t know why, but I just love the hum of a transport truck and just knowing that you’re going someplace and meeting different people. I don’t think I’ll ever
really get my fingers out of it.”