Leadership, family the driving forces behind Bill Underwood

June 15, 2016

Greg Grisolano


Bill Underwood’s Citizen Driver renaming ceremony on June 1 at the TA in Greenwood, La., turned into a family affair.

Flanked by his wife and four of his eight children, Underwood, an OOIDA member from Alta Vista, Kan., was also surrounded by numerous members of his late mother, Nelda (Huckaby) Underwood’s extended family as well, who reside in nearby towns and parishes.

“It was a family reunion, is what it was,” Underwood said in a phone interview with Land Line. “One of the reasons I chose that truck stop is my mother’s family is from that part of Louisiana. I’m related to about half the people down there.”

Even some passers-by who were road-tripping from Ohio to Texas and stopped at the TA for fuel saw the tent, heard the music, and decided to crash the party.

“I didn’t know whether they were cousins or what, but when I started talking to them, they said ‘No, we saw the party going on and decided to join it,” he said. “They got food, they got everything. They were treated like royalty. … I was glad they stopped.”

Citizen Driver Bill Underwood
Bill Underwood and family – From left, son Draven Underwood, 16; wife Lorie; Bill Underwood; sons Caymen, 6 and Aiden, 9; and daughter Candy Fowler and her husband, Mark.

A trucker for the better part of the last 54 years, Underwood also served for 21 years in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot, seeing active duty in Vietnam.

A decorated veteran, his commendations include the Distinguished Flying Cross. He also served as the pilot for numerous dignitaries, including Walter Mondale, Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir.

In addition to being a frequent stop on his routes hauling kosher meats from Nebraska to Miami, this particular TA in Greenwood has a special place in Bill’s life. The staff actually nominated him as a Citizen Driver in part for his actions in helping to rescue a runaway girl on June 25, 2015.

“Our motto in the military was, ‘You lead, follow, or get the hell out of the road.’ And so my motto has always been to try to lead. By helping that young girl, I felt like I was doing the right thing. In my heart, I could not just drive off and leave her.”

The girl turned out to have absconded from a youth detention center in Mississippi, roughly five miles from where she met Underwood. She initially told him she was 19 and her car was towed, with her ID in it, and she needed a ride to Lake Charles, La. Underwood agreed to take her as far as the TA in Greenwood, where he knew the folks there would be willing to help her out.

“She kept changing her story en route, so I knew there were some circumstances there that weren’t quite kosher. I knew the people at (the TA) Greenwood would help her, so that’s where I took her.”

The folks at the TA informed local law enforcement, who found out the girl’s real identity and returned her safely to Mississippi.

“I like to think I wasn’t the only person that would’ve done something like that,” he said. “I hope it makes a difference in the girl’s life.”

For Underwood, the staff and management of the Greenwood TA are part of his extended family as well, as he has made weekly stops there for the last 20 years.

“They go all out for the drivers there, and they’re very cordial,” he said.

The renaming ceremony was no exception.

Featuring a performance by country music artist Lindsay Lawler, Underwood says he and his guests were treated to an excellent home-cooked meal of his favorite foods, including barbecue ribs and chicken, baked beans, and other fare. He said the staff even went the extra mile for dessert, after wife Lorie provided them with his grandmother’s recipe for his favorite banana cake.

He said he wanted to extend a special thanks to everybody at TA Petro “from the president on down” and to the staff at Greenwood for always going the extra mile for him and for other drivers.

“When I walk up to the counter, I may be in a road-rage mood because of traffic and the stupid things that people do when they don’t pay attention, but when I walk up to that counter, whoever’s behind it, male or female, has a smile on their face and it’s contagious,” he said. “When people see that smile, they can be angry and it just changes the whole atmosphere. They make you feel like they are there for you. You don’t get that all over the United States. That’s my favorite truck stop.”