It started, almost, as a temporary job.
“I was looking for work,” Bobby McCoy said. “The Vietnam war was happening. I was 17 and 1A draft status. Every place I went to they asked my draft status. When I told them I was 1A, they’d say they wanted to hire me, but they were afraid they would train me and then I’d get drafted.
“’We can’t use you,’ they would say.”
His father, a retired coal miner, was working maintenance and as the custodian at Briceville Elementary. Bobby took a job as an assistant, waiting for Uncle Sam to call for a free trip to Southeast Asia.
It never came.
Fifty years later Bobby McCoy stand in the hall way of Briceville Elementary School and greets teachers, parents, students … Anybody who happens to come along.
“I’m a blessed man,” he said.
McCoy started working at Briceville when the school still taught students through eighth grade. When Anderson County High School was built Briceville was used strictly as an elementary school.
“It’s changed quite a bit,” McCoy said.
McCoy said he has worked for 13 principals in his 50 years at the school.
“Thirteen wonderful principals,” he said.
McCoy is “the custodian,” but is he is more custodian on memory at the school.
A couple of weeks before the 2019-2020 school year opened renown artist Gale Hinton painted a mural on the wall at Briceville Elementary. The mural depicts the history of the people who settled the area and of the town.
McCoy is familiar with all of it.
He has family members who helped retrieved the dead from mine disasters and he knows the layout of the old Briceville school house.
The only thing he isn’t sure about is the exact location of the old Briceville Opera House, but he is in awe that there was one in town at one time.
“Can you imagine it? I bet it was something to take in,” he said.
Hinton had a surprise for McCoy though. She waited until she was almost finished and added McCoy to mural — she had to wait until he had left work to go home though.
“I was totally surprised,” he said.
Everyone loves Bobby.
More importantly, everyone respects Bobby.
“I started in the spring during my first year here and we have an end-of-school outing at Cades Cove,” Briceville Principal Travis Hutchison said. “I asked Bobby to go along and he was okay as long as he didn’t have to ride a school bus.
“So he’s riding with me and he looks over and says, ‘You tell me if I’m doing anything wrong, okay?’” Hutchison laughed.
“I should have been asking HIM that.”
McCoy says he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll keep at the job, but he has no other plans.
“This is all I do. I work and go to church,” he said.
And keeps the memories of Briceville School.