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UNF student comes to aid of shuttle bus driver

It was a mild, sunny December day at the University of North Florida as Willie Brown was driving his typical shuttle bus route on campus, picking up and dropping off students.  

For Brown, getting to meet students on the shuttle is the best part of the job.  

“The students are so kind to me, and I love interacting with them,” Brown said. 

Peyton Potter is a senior in the Hicks Honors College who will graduate this May. After class, she boarded Brown’s bus to go back to her residence hall. 

As they pulled up to the bus stop outside The Flats, she realized Brown wasn’t stopping and the bus was moving forward past the stop into the grass.  

Potter knew something was wrong. 

A lifetime making friends behind the wheel 

Willie Brown HeadshotBrown, 74, is a Jacksonville native, driver by trade and a friend to everyone he meets. 

He began his career in the 1960s and one of his first jobs was working as a bus driver where he transported Black students across the Jacksonville bridges when schools were first racially integrated. He later moved on to driving tractor trailers and delivering goods around the city and then around the country.  

He made many connections with those who rode his buses. His time at UNF was no different.  

“I know basic Mandarin and Arabic from meeting all kinds of people back in my delivery driver days.” Brown said. “When I hear students on my bus speaking those languages, I make sure to greet them accordingly. It always really surprises them, and they appreciate me making the connection.” 

As Brown was pulling up to the bus stop, he started feeling strange. He wasn’t sure what was happening but he wanted to make sure the students on his bus were safe, so he hit the emergency button that stopped the bus and opened the door.  

As the bus rolled slowly to a stop on the side of the road, Potter and another student passenger on the bus jumped from their seats, rushing over to Brown. The driver remembers them asking what was wrong, but he was unable to respond.  

Brown was suffering a massive stroke.  

A nurse in the right place at the right time  

Peyton Potter HeadshotPotter, who went to middle and high school in Tampa, is a natural leader who has been trained to care for others.  

In addition to being a member of Kappa Delta Eta Zeta and the UNF Panhellenic Council VP of recruitment operation, she’s the president of the UNF Student Nursing Association. She will earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in the spring. 

Potter was admitted early to the School of Nursing as part of the Freshman Admit Nursing program. She worked as a nurse extern during the height of COVID at a medical surge facility at HCA Florida South Shore Hospital in Sun City Center, Florida, and for two years in the ICU at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville.  

For Potter, nursing is so much more than medical charts and medicines, it’s about developing real relationships with patients and cultivating compassion. 

“Working in the COVID ward made me fall in love with the compassionate care involved in nursing,” said Potter. “There was one patient whose husband passed in the ER while I was working. I was able to share his last moments with her, hold her while she cried and bring her flowers to brighten her days. I spent time getting to know her and she made a huge impact on me that I will never forget.” 

Jumping in to help  

On the bus that winter day, Potter and the other student stayed by Brown’s side until first responders arrived. The students were able to help the paramedics determine Brown’s “last known normal,” which is the point at which a person was last known to be without the signs and symptoms of the stroke. This detail is critical to determining the successful course of treatment.  

Brown was taken to the Mayo Clinic where he received life-saving care. Although Brown was left temporarily blind and paralyzed, he has since made a full recovery from the stroke. The doctors told him that only 10% of patients with that type of stroke make a full recovery.  

Moving forward to serve others  

Nearing graduation, Potter is looking for a nursing position at a labor and delivery unit in Boston, Massachusetts.  

“UNF is so special because of supportive staff like Mr. Brown and faculty mentors like Dr. Judy Comeaux in nursing who truly care about the students and who make the campus experience so special,” said Potter. “I didn’t do anything heroic, I’m just so happy to hear that Mr. Brown is well.” 

Looking toward retirement, Brown is focused on his health. But he’s not done working. 

“I just want to thank those two young girls who God placed on the bus that day to help save my life,” shared Brown. “I’m really going to miss all the students, but I am blessed as God has saved my life and I feel called to continue serving him through ministry.”  

Brown will be healing the community through ministry. Potter will be healing the community through nursing. Both will be relying on the strength and compassion in their hearts.