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Remembering trucking instructor James Tom Riffe

Tidewater Community College remembers one of its own.

James Tom Riffe joined TCC as a mechanic for the Truck Driver program in 2007. For four years he maintained TCC’s fleet of trucks to ensure they were road-ready for student drivers.

In 2011, he became a trucking instructor bringing decades of experience to the classroom and driver training.

Matt Woods, lead instructor and program coordinator recalls Riffe often quipping, “If we can’t train them, they can’t be trained.”

Before his passing, Riffe was asked about his time at TCC. He said he was most proud of giving students a second chance. “Some of my students had trouble with the law and had priors or were in jail. They could come to TCC and complete the trucking program and eventually earn a good living if they worked hard. I felt I could connect with them and help change their lives.”

Prior to TCC, Riffe owned and operated his own bus company, Chesapeake Northern Transportation (CNT), where he drove buses from Canada to Mexico and all the places in between. He also retired from Ford Motor Company, working at the Ford plant in Norfolk for 30 years.

Riffe lost his battle with cancer in July 2021. He leaves behind his wife Kathy and their children Jimmy and Courtney, as well as his son-in-law Daniel and grandson Mason.

“It’s my calling to keep supplies moving nationwide – whether it’s the pandemic or a natural disaster.” – Elwin Hines, TCC Truck Driving alum

Elwin Hines has been on the road since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. He has logged an average of 3,000 miles a week, bringing food products, paper goods and water to the hardest hit areas.

The Portsmouth resident who graduated from TCC’s trucking program more than a decade ago was selected as Driver of the Year (For-Hire Trucking) by Lytx, a global leader in video telematics committed to improving safety and efficiency behind the wheel.

Hines has driven more than a million miles for TransAm Trucking in his freightliner, living life on the road.

Elwin Hines making his way to a Tyson plant in Junction City, Iowa.

“It’s my calling to keep supplies moving nationwide – whether it’s the pandemic or a natural disaster,” Hines said. “People rely on TransAm drivers to get into the area’s most in need.”

Since he started with the company 13 years ago, he has maintained a spotless driving record – zero preventable accidents, zero claims charged against him and zero moving violations.

“TCC is the driving force behind my achievement,” Hines said. “A school that may be considered just a community college got me where I am today.”

Hines acknowledges trucking instructors Wallace Miller and Matt Isaac for teaching him the skills that transformed him from a brick mason struggling in a recession to a successful truck driver who loves going to work every day.

“Both of them were my mentors. Those were the two men who inspired me and encouraged me that I could do this and really achieve it,” he said. “I knew the trucking industry offered stability. Nothing moves in this country without a truck.”

The Booker T. Washington High School graduate regularly gives presentations to budding drivers nationwide and stresses the value of the TCC curriculum. He even recruits drivers for TransAm Trucking during TCC events.

“There’s no such thing as a dumb truck driver,” he said. “We as professional drivers have to get out of that mindset of just shifting gears and going down the highway. The technology has changed so much. You have to have an education to be a truck driver.”

TCC’s Career Studies Certificate in Trucking prepares graduates to obtain their Class A Commercial Driver’s License. The 16-week program offered during the day, evening and on weekends teaches students Department of Transportation rules, defensive driving, maintenance, hazardous material and highway and city driving.

TCC trucking grads have a 98% pass rate on DMV exams.

“It’s a stern program, but it works,” Hines said. “TCC turns out the best drivers in the country.”

Hines is among them.

When Hines comes off the road, he plans to take a teaching post in TCC’s Truck Driver training program.