ST. IGNACE, Mich. (WJMN) – If you’ve crossed the Mackinac Bridge in the past 30 years, you probably have had Pat Rickley as the friendly face at the toll booth.
Rickley, known to many as the “gatekeeper to the Upper Peninsula”, grew up in the Eastern U.P. on Chain Lake. A graduate of St. Ignace LaSalle High School, he joined the Army and served in artillery as part of the 1st Infantry Division.
“I started here about thirty years ago,” said Rickley. “I got done working for a paving company downstate and I went to sign up for unemployment and they had a list for the civil service. So, I got on the list and about a week later, I got called for an interview here and I’ve been here ever since.”
After a long career with the Mackinac Bridge Authority, Rickley had his last shift on Saturday, May 20. Over the years, he spent the majority of it manning the toll booths; and with every passing car, Rickley always welcomed you with a smile, kind words, and he’d probably crack a joke, too.
“I interact with them, I make eye contact, I talk to them and initiate, say thank you. Sometimes if they feel sad or something, I can tell. I try to console them. People appreciate that there’s a human aspect, and you’re not just a robot going through the motions, you know?”
From airports to family trips at Disney, Rickley has been recognized as “The Bridge Guy” from people all over the country and internationally.
“‘It’s the bridge guy!’ Yeah, it’s funny. They just yell at me, and they acknowledge me. My boss, the last boss that we had here, he went to Mexico with his family, and they asked him if they knew who I was in Mexico. And I was like wow. So, I have friends from all over the place. I have people in other countries that I’ve passed, and they know who I am,” said Rickley.
Stopping at a toll booth takes mere seconds before you’re on your way again. But in such a short period of time, Rickley’s interactions have left a mark on countless travelers over the years.
“I think Pat is…He’s just so funny,” said Teresa Ditta, a supervisor with the Mackinac Bridge Authority. “He makes everyone laugh he makes everyone smile. One of the other workers was like ‘I wish I could be like Pat, how do I become Pat?’ and it’s like, no one’s going to become Pat. You just can’t follow him. He’s one of a kind. He’s really going to be missed around here.”
Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) Chairman Patrick “Shorty” Gleason reflected on his interactions with Rickley.
“Whether we’re talking about hunting, fishing, golfing, or quads, Pat has always been very welcoming and friendly,” Gleason said. “His dedication to greeting motorists is second to none.”
In his retirement, Rickley says he’s looking forward to having his first summer off in 45 years and working on his tan.
“I’m going to miss all the people. I mean the amount of people I’ve spoken to. I mean sometimes 2,000 people a day. I talk to them and try to make eye contact with everybody. I try to be a positive individual, so nothing manifests down the road where people are angry. I’ve spoken to so many people over my long career that I just think it’s time to go and I’m going to miss all the people and the interactions,” Rickley concluded.
One thing is certain, Pat Rickley has left a legacy built on appreciation and kindness towards one another.