George Blackburn Wins O/O Title Plans to Retire in a Year and a Half, Says Wife

by Ingrid Phaneuf

MONTREAL, Que. – George Blackburn of British Columbia was awarded the Owner/Operator of the Year Award at the Expocam truck show in Montreal Oct. 23 through 25.

Blackburn, a driver and owner/operator for 46 years (and an estimated 2.5 million miles) was among six finalists selected by a panel of judges from Truck News.

Blackburn received a wooden plaque, a diamond ring, an RESP worth $3,000 and a paid vacation for two to the destination of his choice at the award ceremony held at Place Bonaventure Oct. 25. Award sponsors included Goodyear, Markel Insurance and Freightliner, represented respectively by Alain Savoie, Andr Paradis and Brad Thiessen.

Blackburn was presented with the award by Truck News Publisher Rob Wilkins, Editorial Director Lou Smyrlis and Executive Editor Ingrid Phaneuf.

“This is a man who is an inspiration to all of us. This is a man who is an excellent ambassador for our industry,” said Smyrlis in presenting the award to Blackburn.

Blackburn said he was honoured.

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” he said to those assembled.

The five other finalists who received Honourable Mentions were David Bjarnason (Alta.), Irvin Duncan (Alta.), Edwin Kary (Alta.), Roger MacDougall (PEI) and Norman Osmond (Nfld.).

As for Blackburn, he made it to the awards ceremony in Montreal on a plane from Vancouver, in one piece, despite his aversion to flying.

“I’ve been running trucks long enough to know what can go wrong mechanically,” he joked.

During the celebration dinner held the previous evening, Blackburn entertained the Truck News crew with tales of his many adventures. Many of them were difficult situations to begin with, but ended happily, thanks mostly to Blackburn’s intervention and his uncanny ability to put a sunny spin on the gloomiest situations.

“So you see, everything comes back around to you in the end,” was how Blackburn summed up most of his anecdotes.

For example, the night he pulled his rig over at a truck stop to have a quick coffee and discovered a young man stealing expensive computer parts from the back of a trailer. Blackburn pursued the young man, first on truck then on foot (he’s a B.C. Senior Games medal winner, after all), and radioed a colleague to help in the chase. When the two finally cornered the culprit – he was hiding out in a private home, the police arrived at the scene and kicked down the door without getting a warrant.

The young man got off easy due to the entry without a warrant and the fact the merchandise was returned.

As for George, he continued on his way that very night to make his delivery, on time. He completely forgot about the young man.

A little while later, George was locked out of his cab, and a slender young man helped him get in without breaking a window, by slipping in through the storage compartment under the sleeper. George didn’t even realize it was the same young man he’d cornered until he thanked him for his help, and the young man replied “No – I should be the one thanking you.”

Another story George told was about rescuing a young pregnant woman who’d been raped and left naked at the roadside. He picked her up, drove down the road to gather her clothes together, brought her to a motel and paid the bill. The woman turned up later at a local truck stop with her husband to thank him and return the money.

As George likes to say “Everything comes back around to you in the end.”

George had many more stories to tell, but the most interesting ones, and the ones he was most reluctant to share, were the stories of his own life and its tragedies.

After 46 years of driving, George has loved and he has lost many times, both in his professional and his personal life.

An early bloomer who spent most of his youth in foster homes, George got into the trucking business at 17. He eventually accrued, despite much personal and professional hardship, a total of 17 trucks, which he lost when yet another partnership went bad. But George recovered, and is today the proud owner of a 1999 Western Star. He’s been working for Loomis Courier, now DHL Express, first as a driver, then as an O/O, for the last 23 years.

“I’ve known George for 22 of the 23 years he has worked for Loomis Courier/DHL,” wrote David Zielke, area service manager for northern B.C., when he learned Blackburn was nominated for the Owner/Operator of the Year Award.

“Over the years, George has always been an outstanding truck driver with regard to safety, dependability, willingness to go the extra mile and caring for his fellow employees and customers. His involvement with and contribution to non-profit organizations is countless. As the manager of a freight company who knows the value of getting the schedules through on time, without accidents and our customer’s freight intact, I highly value the dedication George has devoted to his profession.”

Ernie Dugdale, the fellow trucker who nominated George for the award, is another huge fan.

“He’s always been an inspiration to me because if his dedication to his job, his community and his family,” Dugdale wrote to Truck News.

“George is always helping others and invited me to join him in his volunteer work with the Knights of Columbus. … I always thought I was too busy trucking and providing for my family to do volunteer work, but George showed me I was wrong.”

“My dad is not only my dad but one of my best friends,” wrote Curtis Blackburn.

But George’s biggest fan is by far his wife Ellen. Married for 17 years, the two have six children and eight grandchildren, despite the fact they have spent much of their time together apart. Ellen wrote of George: “George is one of the most well-known truckers on the road in British Columbia. In 1990, he was awarded the privilege of honorary membership in the ‘Above and Beyond Club’ by Loomis Courier, for his service to fellow travellers. There are many kindnesses he’s done that most people are not aware of. One small undertaking that he assumed responsibility for was the care and feeding one winter of 11 cats that had been abandoned at one of his regular truck stops on his northern B.C. route. As an animal lover, he couldn’t stand the thought of them trying to forage for themselves and possibly starving for lack of food. Even when taking days off and hiring a spare driver he made sure that there was animal food in the truck and explicit instructions for the driver to feed them. It could be considered as part of his job…

“In our family life he has been an exemplary figure to our six children and eight grandchildren. Always eager and willing to help in any capacity he is loved and respected by us all. His kind and generous nature has often set an example to be followed.”

After many long years on the road, George’s beloved Western Star will be his last, said Ellen.

“He’s retiring in a year and a half,” she says smiling at him. When she says this George smiles back. He says he does have plans to coach hockey and open a business of his own.

But there’s a twinkle in his eye that says something else – maybe that, no matter where he is, a good-sized chunk of his heart will always be running down the road.

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