She was short of stature yet maneuvered a 40-foot-long, 20-ton whale of a bus safely across Bakersfield for 33 years.
Hundreds of friends, family members and Golden Empire Transit bus drivers squeezed into Rising Star Baptist Church on Thursday to share stories and personal memories of Debrah Ann Fisher. The veteran -- and some say, legendary -- bus driver died Jan. 24 when her car, for unknown reasons, veered into parked vehicles near Brundage Lane and P Street.
She was 59.
"If you came for a funeral, you're in the wrong place," Pastor Kevin Lee Edwards warned the congregation at the outset of Thursday's service.
And while tears were certainly shed and voices were at times choked with emotion, the mourners stayed true to Edwards' admonition by also sharing lighthearted laughter, profound gratitude, and plenty of amens and hallelujahs.
"She was the only person I know who would come to work in her uniform on her day off just to make sure we were OK and all the routes were covered," said Candra Cheers, GET's operations manager.
What kind of person would do such a thing, Cheers asked. Apparently a one-of-a-kind kind of person.
"My mom, she was a people person. She liked being out in the world. She liked to help," said Fisher's eldest daughter, Tasha Loran. "She was always the strong one."
Co-workers said Fisher's prodigious voice could be heard before 5 a.m., at the beginning of every workday. Even as her co-workers were still shaking loose morning cobwebs, Fisher would arrive with a bounce in her step.
"Good morning, everybody!" she would proclaim like a trumpet blast heralding another fine day. And if a fellow coach operator was in a sour mood and chose not to respond, Fisher would ask if everything was OK.
A member of East Bakersfield High's class of '73, Fisher started at GET in 1980, just a couple of months after Katherine Horton, who has been driving a bus longer than any current employee. The two became fast friends. They even vacationed together one year in Chicago, where they attended the Oprah Winfrey Show.
"They shopped together in the L.A. area like the Kardashians," Cheers said Thursday, bringing smiles to the faces of those who knew Fisher and her love of shopping.
But despite the joyful memories, Horton admitted she's been struggling over the unexpected loss of her best friend.
"She called me 'Kat,'" Horton said this week in a separate interview.
"I had a dream about her on Saturday. I could see her, clear as day, and she smiled and said, 'Hey, Kat, let's turn some corners."
It was a common phrase Fisher used to describe the career the friends had chosen. It meant settling in behind the wheel of a behemoth and transporting people of every sort from one end of town to another. It was a matter of pride.
More than 30 GET employees asked for time off so they could attend Thursday's services. Many showed solidarity with their lost co-worker by wearing their blue uniforms. Not unlike the funeral of a police officer, the uniforms and a GET bus leading the way of the funeral procession signaled to the community these proud peers had lost one of their own. One of their best.
There were times when the behavior of a rider would raise Fisher's ire, and she would threaten to put the offender off the bus. And there were other times when the veteran driver would pay the fareof a single mother and her children out of her own pocket.
Years ago, Fisher and Horton shared Route 11 at King and Owens streets in east Bakersfield. As Horton was headed in one direction, Fisher was headed in the other.
It was a rough area of town, and the shift ended after dark. But the pair had developed a reputation for their mixture of friendliness and a stern refusal to put up with rule breakers.
"People would say, 'You know those two black ladies? You don't mess with them,'" Horton recalled, laughing at the memory.
"We didn't have any problems."
Bakersfield College student Carolyn Morris waited at the BC terminal Wednesday for bus No. 44, Fisher's route for the past few years. She said she didn't know Debbie Fisher's name, and yet, somehow they had become acquaintances, driver and rider. Fisher was the sort, she said, who made those kinds of connections with regular riders.
"I didn't know her, but I knew her," Morris said.
When she didn't see Fisher on her regular run over the past two weeks, she began to wonder whether everything was OK.
"My reaction is sadness," Morris said after hearing of Fisher's accident. "Sadness for her family. I know what it's like to lose a mother. They have my deepest sympathies."
In addition to her daughter Tasha, she is survived by a second daughter, Shawnta Loran, son Paris Loran, six grandchildren and many other relatives and friends.