A few years ago, Metro Regional Transit Authority Executive Director Robert Pfaff heard that some people had missed their bus to Canton and were stranded at the transit center in downtown Akron.
So he high-tailed it to the facility, invited them into his personal van and drove them to Canton.
“That’s just the way he was,” said Kirt Conrad, the executive director of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority. “He would do anything for anyone.”
Mr. Pfaff died Monday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 61.
Born in Akron, he was a U.S. Air Force veteran. He had worked at Metro for 38 years, starting as a bus driver in 1974. He was executive director for 17 years.
Mr. Pfaff, who was raised in Cuyahoga Falls and most recently lived in Green, is credited with helping Metro become a countywide service, introducing Sunday service, starting a route to Cleveland and opening the transit center in 2009.
The transit facility was renamed the Robert K. Pfaff Transit Center in May in his honor. He also received the Leonard Ronis Excellence in Transit Award through the Ohio Public Transit Association last month.
“Bob’s passing is a loss to more than his immediate Metro family,” said Saundra Foster, president of the Metro Board of Trustees. “His passing will be felt around the country in the transit industry. He was an innovator, he fought for this industry like no other and he wanted the best for all of Summit County.
“His knowledge base was second to none. Personally, I have lost a dear friend and professionally we have all lost a person who fought the fight for those who needed him most.”
Despite his lofty accomplishments, co-workers, colleagues and friends said it was his compassion for passengers and their needs that set him apart.
Conrad, who had worked with Mr. Pfaff for 13 years before taking over SARTA, recalled Mr. Pfaff personally visiting with people who had complaints about bus stops and looking up bus times when a rider called him at the office, as opposed to transferring the call.
Molly Becker, the communications director for Metro RTA, said he did things like that all the time. He would offer a lift to a bus rider who missed the bus and he even mopped the floor of the transit center the day it opened.
“Bob’s ultimate goal was to retire, move to Orlando for the winter and drive a bus for Disney,” she said. “He loved driving and working with customers more than anything.”
Charles Rector, Metro director of operations, had worked with Mr. Pfaff for 36 years.
“He has taught me everything in regards to the transit industry, but more importantly, Bob taught me how to treat people with respect and dignity and how to always put the person first,” Rector said. “I respect him for all he has done and the impact he has had here at Metro will be long lasting and not ever forgotten.”
Mr. Pfaff cared deeply about the community and had no ego when working on projects, said Jason Segedy, director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study.
“He would listen as much he would talk — and in our profession that’s rare,” he said.
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic said Mr. Pfaff was great to work with “on any problem or project because he always kept the best interest of the community at heart. His early years, starting from the bottom and working his way up, gave him a wonderful perspective on people and solving problems, and I will miss him greatly.”
Mr. Pfaff is survived by four daughters, four grandchildren and two brothers.
Details for an August memorial service are pending. A private burial will be at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.