By Julie Obermiller firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — When Western New York kids went back to school last week, Tommy Williams rode a little yellow bus from his Lockport home to Aspire Center of Learning School in Cheektowaga. Eight-year-old Tommy loves that bus ride, taking in the everyday sights and sounds, giving him a moving window on the world around him. You may not know Tommy, but folks around the world are hearing his story, in a song.
“The Little Bus” (Tommy’s Song) is a tribute written by Mark “Buc” Williams for his son. The catchy country song does what country music does best: It tells a story.
“The idea to write the song, ‘The Little Bus,’ came from my son. Tommy was born perfectly healthy but began having seizures a couple of days after receiving his four-month DTaP vaccination,” Williams said.
The routine childhood vaccine is for the prevention of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, but it meant heartbreak for the Williams family when Tommy developed severe epilepsy, his small body wracked with endless seizures. Since then he has been unable to walk or talk or to even sit up on his own.
“He is now 8 years old and has been riding a little bus to school for the past five years. I also watched my older brother Earl, who has Down Syndrome, ride a little bus to school for many years prior to that,” Williams said.
The bright yellow bus became symbolic of Tommy’s attempt to overcome limitations and enjoy the people and places around him.
The Williams family doesn’t stay at home and hide away. Tommy’s parents take him everywhere. As members of Rainbow of Help, a group that helps raise funds for people with large medical expenses, they can be seen at all the local benefits, giving back to the community that supported them. Tommy’s chair went around the track at the Relay for Life, one more supporter of the cause and a familiar sight at local events.
Taking Tommy everywhere and including him in everything has given Buc and mom Patty a unique perspective on how other children — and adults — interact with their son. While unabashed kids may ask questions like “What’s the matter with him; why doesn’t he talk?” many adults just look away, not knowing what to say. Their reaction may be pity for the child with disabilities, but they don’t realize that for all his limitations, Tommy is a happy child who is capable of enjoying life and interacting in his own ways.
“Over the years I’ve noticed how some people have been afraid of people with special needs. I believe that it’s perfectly normal to fear what we don’t understand. I also believe that if a person takes the time to interact with a special needs individual, they’ll soon find out that they are more alike than they realize, said Williams.
“They have many of the same wants, needs and dreams. It was my hope that the song ‘The Little Bus’ would help make people think and understand that people are people, no matter what our abilities are,” Williams said.
No stranger to limitations himself, Williams worked in Nashville for six years, returning to Western New York in 1989. He was in the process of securing a recording contract when he was hit by tractor-trailer on the thruway. Williams was laid up for several years and underwent several back surgeries. Due to the injuries, the recording contract fell through, but he owns his own video production company and is writing songs again.
“I have a great wife and beautiful son who has severe epilepsy. We like to include him in everything we possibly can,” Williams said.
Writing a song for Tommy was an outpouring of love for the family he views as a true blessing.
As a songwriter, Williams had the connections to take his song to a professional level. The song was recorded in Nashville, Tenn., at JL Productions. It was produced and engineered by well-known producer Jim Lightman, assisted by Jay Buchanan, and was performed by an all-star cast of musicians. Chris Leuzinger played acoustic and electric guitars. Leuzinger is best known for his work on all of Garth Brooks’ albums. Playing the drums is veteran Lee Kelly, who has recorded for Curb Records and has toured with numerous country stars. Jim Lightman played on bass. Lightman has played with many well-known artists over the years.
Longtime session player Billy Justineau provided the piano and organ. An up-and-coming country singer named Matt Dame performed the vocals. Dame has several major labels currently looking at him. Some students from Eakin Elementary School provided the children’s background vocals, donating their time and talents. Rita Black, a music specialist from the schools music department, directed them, and “The Little Bus” became a reality.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, Williams gave the song to his wife as a gift, and she knew, just as he did, that it needed to be shared with others. They talked about how the song could help people open their eyes and hearts, to those who may seem different. The couple decided to sell downloads and CD copies of the song, and give any and all proceeds to some special needs children’s groups. One group is the Miracle Baseball League for special needs kids, and others provide summer camp programs for special needs children. The Williams’ share the same goal. “We hope that the song will help to inspire others to take that first step to say hello and interact with someone with special needs and to realize that inside, they’re no different than anyone else.”
Tommy’s Song was released to radio stations around the world and is currently receiving an average of more than 4,500 airplays a week on over 300 radio stations, in the U.S. and overseas. Toys R Us has endorsed the song and has recommended it to The National Down Syndrome Society. The family hopes that more people will hear it and share it.
“ ‘The Little Bus’ isn’t just a kid’s song; it’s an everybody, good-old country song that tells a compelling story about kids who shied away from the boy in a wheelchair they could not understand. In the song, one student is encouraged by his teacher to spend time at Tommy’s home, to get to know what was behind the blank stare. What the student saw was a boy more like himself than not. When he shared his discovery with the other students, the barriers came down and Tommy was accepted and celebrated as a regular kid,” Williams said.
Williams began producing the CDs in his studio, each emblazoned with a picture of Tommy and his little bus. The video/film producer, writer and editor currently owns Rissa Productions in Lockport. Williams also has 21 years of experience with LCTV and local productions. He would like to produce a music video here at a local school, using talented youngsters from this area. Williams is always on the lookout for an avenue to get the song and its message to the public.
The CD is available, for a $3 donation, at The Medicine Shop in Lockport, Pine Pharmacies in Niagara Falls and Williamsville, Main Mobility in Clarence and Island Prescription Center in Grand Island. Other locations are being considered. The song can be downloaded from itunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-little-bus-single/id639194644 and at www.cdbaby.com and at several affiliates.
Donations may also be made to a not-for-profit account called the “Little Bus Fund,” at any branch of First Niagara Bank. All proceeds will be held there until April 2014, when they will be distributed to organizations working with disabled children.