Motorcoach community mourns transportation stalwarts

The motorcoach community is mourning the loss of Vivian Jeane Willingham and Zane K. “Sparkey” Webster Jr., who both died in March. 

They are being remembered for their contribution to the bus and motorcoach industry they loved.

Vivian Jeane Willingham

Vivian Jeane Willingham, 84, who died March 9, is described as a unique character who touched the lives and hearts of many people. She enjoyed the bus industry, but most of all she loved the people in it.  

Vivian Jeane Willingham with husband, Gene.

“For those who knew her, she was a lively woman who spoke her mind, good or bad If she liked you, you knew it, and if she didn’t, well, you knew that too,” said her son, Jason Willingham.

 Soon after she married Gene Willingham, of Gray Line Tours in Seattle, the couple founded Willingham Inc. in 1971, which began doing upholstery for Gray Line and Cascade Trailways.  

At the time, there were only two other companies in the country doing upholstery, so the word got around fast. During those early years, they manufactured seat covers in an old chicken coop heated with a 50-gallon oil drum made into a stove.  

In 1973, the couple lost their daughter to bone cancer then welcomed the birth of their son.

From that point on, they worked hand in hand, building the company through ups and downs. In the foothills of the Cascades, they built a shop and lived above on the second floor. The couple made work an adventure, traveling the Western United States and Canada, usually in their motor home, seeing customers and making friends wherever they went.

The business grew to include shops in Los Angeles and Canada.

“It just got so we didn’t have time for ourselves so we started scaling it back down,” said Gene, who at age 87 continues to work. “We still do a booming business but we sure have an empty chair here without Jeane.”

The pair were members of the California Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association, Gray Line and Trailways. They were founding members of the Northwest Bus Association.  

Golf tournaments brought joy

One of Vivian’s biggest joys was playing — and winning — in the CBA golf tournaments.

“When the men hit the ball a mile and sometimes missed the fairway there, she was just plunking it right down the middle,” remembers her son. “Her smiling face was always at the booth at the trade show, handing out whatever little goodies.”

At the end of every CBA meeting, she could be found playing cards in the hospitality suite, using candies and pretzels as currency.

The family plans a celebration of life at their home on one of her favorite holidays — the Fourth of July — with a barbecue and fireworks.

Zane K. ‘Sparkey’ Webster Jr.

 Zane K. “Sparkey” Webster Jr. died March 5, 2021, after spending more than 40 years devoted to safety and training experience. He spent more than 20 years as a firefighter and another 20 in public transportation safety.

During his transportation career, he worked in safety management at Franklin Motorcoach/Martz Trailways, Loudoun Transit/Yellow Motorcoach/Conex/Veolia, Fairfax Connector and Houston (Texas) Metro MV Transportation.

In 2014, he began working as director of safety and risk management for Hospitality Enterprises’ New Orleans Tours Inc., where he remained through 2019.

‘A true professional’

Webster lived by the mantra, “the rules were established for a reason,” said Charles Searles, safety manager. 

Zane K. ‘Sparkey’ Webster Jr.

Searles initially wasn’t happy when Webster was hired because he had applied for the same position, but he credits Webster for making him better.

“Zane was a true professional,” Searles said. “He mentored me on safety and regulations. We already had a training program in the motorcoach division, but not a real formalized one. Zane insisted we put together a formal training program, which I did with quarterly sessions.”

Webster established an award program for safety and performance — just a few months before FMCSA came out with a mandate on formal training. He spent countless hours reviewing procedures to ensure the company was operating at peak efficiency at all times. He established the electronic log system that is still used today.

“Zane changed the safety and performance culture here in all the companies of Hospitality Enterprise,” he said.


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