Driving a truck for a living isn’t an easy job. Driving for a living AND making time to promote the industry and its drivers while encouraging others to make trucking a career? That’s an effort above and beyond. That’s Susie De Ridder.
The Fredericton, New Brunswick-based driver for Amour Transportation Systems was Women in Trucking’s (WIT) choice as its very first Female Driver of the Year. Physical presentation of the award was scheduled for the organization’s “Salute to Women Behind the Wheel” at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, but the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m disappointed,” said De Ridder, “but we have to think of the safety of everyone.”
Instead, the award was presented through a video and press release from WIT on April 1.
De Ridder was chosen from a group of three finalists that also included Carmen Anderson and Sarah Fiske, company drivers for America’s Service Line LLC and FedEx Freight, respectively.
“I can’t wait to meet them,” De Ridder acknowledged.
Still, she was elated at her achievement. “I’ve said it before, it was like winning the ‘Golden Globe’ of trucking,” she said. “I don’t think my feet have hit the ground yet.”
Like many drivers, De Ridder came from a trucking family.
“When I was young I’d go with my dad, and I noticed there were no women driving trucks,” she explained. “I think I’ve always wanted to be a truck driver.”
With 40-years of driving under her belt, De Ridder has more than reached her dream of driving. She has, however, contributed much more to the industry than simply her ability to handle a truck. She’s been an ambassador for safety and especially to those who are considering a driving career.
“I hope that other women can look at me and see that, yes, this is possible,” she said.
To that end, she’s tireless in participating in events that present women, and truckers, in a positive light.
“I love the ‘Girl Gala’ events,” she explained, referring to scheduled exhibitions at schools and other locations where she brings her truck. “It brightens my heart to pull in and see little girls —and little boys — waving and wanting me to blow the horn.”
One item that’s always a hit is Claire, the WIT doll that rides on De Ridder’s dash as a part of the organization’s ‘Where’s Claire’ program.
“I wish I could give every one of them a Claire of their own,” De Ridder said, “but I try to leave them with some kind of gift, like a hat or a scouting patch. My hope is that it reminds them of the woman trucker who visited them.”
De Ridder loves to participate in charity events, too. She said she is a good friend of Jo-Anne Phillips, the WIT June 2019 Member of the Month and works with her on the Convoy for Hope, an annual fundraising parade to support cancer research and treatment.
Another charity event was of De Ridder’s own creation. When the woman cleaning showers at a Nebraska truck stop told her of a group of feral cats living around the facility, De Ridder went into action. Working with others, she raised enough funding to have all the animals vaccinated and neutered.
“If I had more time,” she said, “I’d be volunteering at shelters.”
Regardless, she still found time to adopt two rescue cats, Downey and Spice.
“I don’t take them on the road with me, but they’re well cared for at home,” she said.
De Ridder has extensive experience serving women in the trucking industry. She served on the board for the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, resigning that position to devote more time to WIT, where she was named to the Image Team in 2018. She has served as a speaker and panelist at trucking events and conducted ride-alongs with lawmakers and others. Although she enjoyed all the official passengers, she said one stands out.
“I had a police officer ride along on one trip,” she said. “We kind of hit it off, and it was interesting that each of us learned something from the other’s point of view.”
De Ridder works a Tuesday-through-Saturday shift from Armour’s Moncton, New Brunswick, terminal. She’s “running wild” (anywhere in the system) until Friday; then she completes a scheduled grocery run.
When she’s home, Susie helps care for her elderly mother, rests from her workweek and indulges in watching a NASCAR race when she can.
“I usually try to catch a race on Sunday when I’m home,” she said. “Now that the NASCAR events are suspended, I still watch the simulated events.”
De Ridder’s future plans include using her platform to encourage more women to enter the trucking industry.
“Maybe I’ll have more opportunities to promote women,” she said, adding, “My father always said that the steering wheel doesn’t know who’s holding it.”
Her message to women is a simple one: “It’s never too late to get behind the wheel,” she said.
If Susie De Ridder has her way, more women will be holding that wheel in the future.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.