Those bulbous, white-gloved hands, familiar to most as belonging to a famous cartoon mouse, are maybe better known locally as the signature attire of one Hanover County school traffic guard.
After eight years in the role, Dewey Gunn, 76, is hanging up his Mickey Mouse gloves as Atlee High School’s traffic guard and parking lot attendant. Students, staff and parents — and anyone traveling along Atlee Station Road past the high school in the mornings or afternoons when school lets out — has likely been directed by Gunn’s gloved hands as he works to make sure “his kids” get in and out of school safely and everyone else gets where they need to go in one piece.
His last day is June 18, the last day of the 2020-21 school year.
After finishing his morning duties Tuesday, Gunn, wearing Mickey Mouse tennis shoes and a Mickey Mouse polo shirt under his neon vest, stopped by the main office to inquire about parking tickets he’d given out — one of his biggest pet peeves would be folks who don’t obey the rules in his parking lot, he quipped.
Gunn retired from an IT career in 2005 and for a few years was a substitute teacher all around Hanover. A native of western Henrico County, he and his wife, Joyce, moved to Hanover nearly 50 years ago. They still live in the same house, Gunn said, and have two grown children and four grandchildren.
Gunn said he was subbing when he saw the job for Atlee’s traffic guard/parking lot attendant. Back then, he directed six lanes of traffic coming and going from the school parking lot.
Today, there are 10, thanks to increased residential development along Atlee Station Road in close proximity to the school.
Don’t let the silly, ridiculously large gloves fool you — Gunn takes his job very seriously.
“I just don’t want any of these kids to get hurt,” he said, adding that he’s proud of his record. In his eight years, there have been only two minor traffic accidents on his watch and no injuries. “They’re my kids between 7:30 and 4, then I give them back.”
The Disney gloves were his wife’s idea, a purchase made about five years ago on one of their “gazillion” trips to Disney World. (His favorite character is Goofy, and he’s been known to wear a Goofy hat along with the gloves while on the job.)
Before the gloves, Gunn said he tried using traffic signs to help direct traffic, which didn’t work well. He started wearing the gloves, not expecting them to be such a hit. The school community responded immediately, he said, mostly because the gloves are so big and visible and easily seen by everyone, from bus drivers to staff and students.
Gunn said he’s thankful for the students he’s gotten to know over the years. He said this year’s students, in particular, are special to him. He’s given out little gifts to some; others play jokes, like the student who once paid a ticket with Monopoly money.
He was tickled when students asked him to participate in Field Day one year. Gunn said most students probably see him as the guy who “writes me a ticket from time to time and lets me into school,” though every once in a while, he’s reminded that the little things — a congratulatory note, perhaps — can go a long way, even with teenagers.
“You never know how much of an influence you have on these kids,” he said.
Atlee Principal John Wheeler said people don’t know what they have until it’s gone — and that all of “Raider Nation” will feel Gunn’s absence.
“When he is out for the day — which is rare — everyone notices,” Wheeler said. “He has tremendous pride in his work and a strong sense of responsibility while being a true partner within our school community.”
Wheeler said he’ll miss waving to Gunn each morning as he arrives at school. He’ll miss the man’s jovial nature, the friendly conversations, the way in which Gunn works to build relationships with everyone he meets.
Whether working with staff in the main office, handling parking issues or just shuttling students around campus when needed, “without question,” Wheeler said, “he uplifts our community and does so with a servant’s heart.”
Now that he’s retiring for good, Gunn said he has plenty to keep him busy — his garden and greenhouse, his family, and his woodworking hobby, in which he builds Disney-themed Adirondack chairs and wood pieces.
Oh, and one other thing, which shouldn’t surprise anyone: He’s going to Disney World.