Meet the Staff: Debbie Williams

Debbie Williams has never been one for a typical office job.

She doesn’t sit still very well.

Heck, judging by her past she doesn’t stay in one city very long either.

But that’s really not her fault. A self-professed Navy brat, Williams has lived, schooled and worked in close to 20 states.

Now in Oklahoma City for the past three years, Williams is on board with the Thunder, for which she does, of all things, drive the Rolling Thunder Book Bus, which travels to various elementary schools and communities across the region to distribute free books to kids.

It’s about as far removed from an office job as one could imagine.

And she loves it.

“You have to give back in some way, and I’m telling you I truly have the best job in the whole world,” Williams said. “To be able to go and impact kids every single day, I mean, I meet with kids who, some of these kids don’t have one book at home and we want to make sure that that changes. We want to make sure that every kid has a book at home.”

Williams is a can’t-miss.

Slender with short hair, she exudes positive vibes.

Put her behind the wheel of that big, blue bus and she’s a traveling Johnny-on-the-spot.

“Debbie has done an amazing job with the Book Bus," Director of Community Relations Christine Berney said. "She’s absolutely great with all the kids, and has really made this program her own. It wouldn’t be near the success that it is without her."

Williams arrives to the schools with a welcome speech and a bus full of wide-ranging books, all of which she loads and sorts herself.

The giving is the easy part of the job for Williams, who starts her day at around 6:15 a.m., when she whisks her son off to school before heading to the garage at a local warehouse where the bus is stored. In the wintertime, she has to arrive early, what with a diesel gas-guzzling bus to warm up.

The Thunder got the bus from Ross Transportation back in October. Williams saw it long before it was remodeled, when the seats were still in place and the thing was covered in graffiti.

The original plan was for the book bus, which is presented by American Fidelity Assurance Company, to tour three to five days a week.

“We had such a huge demand that we were doing two schools a day on average,” Williams said. “I mean, it’s crazy!”

What’s even crazier is the path that Williams took to the Thunder.

Born in Burlington, Vt., Williams has lived on both coasts and in every time zone in the U.S., including San Diego, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Los Angeles and most recently Milwaukee.

With a degree in sociology from Ithaca College, Williams has always worked in customer service, from private school admissions and real estate to retail and hotel management. She met her husband while working at a Boston hotel, and the two have traveled the country together ever since.

When it came time to interview with the Thunder, Williams said she had but one stipulation: finding a job that wouldn’t require her being glued to a desk all day.

But when Oklahoma City's first major professional sports team called with an offer to be the Rolling Thunder Book Bus driver, she was a bit taken back.

“I started laughing and said, ‘you’re not serious,’” she recalled. “ 'You mean you want me to drive the bus?’ I was very, very hesitant at first. You know it’s really funny. I was scared to death the first day I went out and now it’s just second nature. It’s really just like driving a big van. It doesn’t freak me out at all.”

The community outreach part of the job, the fun part, comes naturally to Williams.

"That’s what gets me excited every day," she said. "To go and reach these kids and to see how excited they get when you stand there and you tell them they’re going to get a free book from the Thunder today. They go nuts. It is so gratifying. It really makes such a big difference. That’s really what it’s all about every day. I mean, how fun is it to get up and have a job like this?”

Contact Chris Silva