Honoring Mark: A Lifetime Journey Riding the Bus

Mark at a conference in the late 1980s

After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1981, Mark Roberts embarked on a quest: finding employment. His professional journey kicked off with roles at the Lane Company and Motorola. However, it wasn’t until several years later, when he accepted a position as a bus salesman at Sonny Merryman, that his true career path unfolded, shaping the next remarkable 36 years of his life.

Mark joined Sonny Merryman with the task of establishing a commercial bus division alongside the company’s thriving school bus business. Armed with ambition and little direction, he dedicated himself to nurturing this division, steering it toward national prominence. Along the way, he cultivated enduring relationships within the industry and among customers and colleagues, leaving a profound impact on numerous lives.

Under the mentorship of Mr. Sonny Merryman himself, Mark absorbed the intricacies of bus sales. While Sonny’s passion lay in yellow school buses, he recognized the necessity of diversifying into commercial “white” buses—a challenge Mark embraced, proving to be an ideal sales professional for the task. Despite Sonny’s gruff exterior, his encouragement and occasional growls fueled Mark’s determination to sell buses.

Pioneering Accessibility

Mark’s career surged in 1992 with the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As the primary commercial bus sales professional at Sonny Merryman, he revolutionized the vendor-customer dynamic, nurturing valued partnerships with transit agencies, governmental entities, equipment manufacturers, and trade associations. His tireless advocacy expanded transportation opportunities for disadvantaged and elderly citizens, positioning him at the forefront of promoting universal accessibility in public transit—a role he continues to champion with unwavering dedication.

Driving Innovation and Advocacy

His expertise extended beyond sales; Mark became an authority on paratransit equipment, consistently seeking advancements for enhanced safety and rider experiences. Manufacturers sought his insights for product development, acknowledging him as one of the nation’s most influential and respected dealer representatives among bus and equipment executives.

Mark with his colleague and friend, Neil

Navigating the Procurement and Bid Process

Mark’s proficiency in crafting bids for bus procurement—be it state, local, or federal—was unparalleled. His deep understanding of bureaucratic processes enabled him to collaborate effectively with government officials and transit operators. Through meticulous attention to detail and communication, he ensured vehicles met riders’ needs, resulting in tens of thousands of quality vehicles traversing Virginia and beyond.

A Champion & Mentor of Public Transit

Beyond his technical prowess, Mark served as a guiding figure for budding transit operations, offering invaluable counsel and support. In 2011 when Radford Transit was in its’ infancy, Mark served as a trusted advisor, providing a wealth of knowledge and guidance in all aspects of public transportation operations – far beyond his bus and equipment expertise. His contributions were pivotal in the success of numerous small urban and rural transit initiatives, shaping the landscape of Virginia’s transportation.

Mark has served on the Board of Directors for the Community Association of Virginia (CTAV) since the organization’s inception in the mid-1990s. He has chaired numerous committees and spearheaded many programs to continually expand the organization’s outreach and influence within Virginia public transit. To this day he serves as both a friend and mentor to the organization’s Young Professionals in Transportation (YPT) group. Many leaders past and present with CTAV and the Virginia Transit Association (VTA) look to Mark for assistance in gathering resources to support conferences, shows, and legislative initiatives. He always answered the call.

A Trail of Awards and Accolades

Mark and the team at the Hampton Roads Center Grand Opening

Mark’s dedication to the bus world and public transportation earned him respect and accolades both within Virginia and nationwide. Most recently, he was honored by VTA with the “Outstanding Contribution by an Individual (Private Sector)” award. Many of Sonny Merryman’s recognitions and awards were a testament to Mark’s unwavering commitment to excellence, epitomizing the company’s mission of “Pleasing our Customers, Serving our Communities, and Driving People Forward.”

A Legacy Beyond Buses

As Mark enters retirement, his focus shifts to cherished moments with family. He eagerly anticipates spending quality time with his wife, daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren, relishing the roles of a devoted husband, father, and Grandpa Mark. His retirement will undoubtedly include pursuits like tending to his land, hunting adventures, serving his church and community, and being the trusted companion to his dogs.

As Mark walks off into the sunset of his retirement years, he leaves the proud legacy of a remarkable career as both a bus professional and a friend to many. We wish Mark a rewarding retirement filled with good health, joy, and the fulfillment of a lifetime’s worth of contributions to the bus world and beyond. You’ve truly earned it all.

Mark and family at his youngest daughter’s wedding
Mark with his grandchildren
Mark and his daughters Rebecca and Caroline on the hunt