Longtime CW delivery driver leaves lasting impact on UA

Johnnie Livingston, who passed away this month, left a generational legacy at the paper.


Johnnie Livingston and his grandson Callan Burns delivered the CW from 2000-2018. CW File

Jacob Powell | @JacobLPowell, Contributing Writer

For more than 15 years, thousands of students across campus could pick up a copy of The Crimson White to read about relevant news and events for the week, thanks to dedicated delivery workers, like Johnnie Livingston, a 91-year-old war veteran, father, grandfather and CW delivery driver from 2000-2015.

Although print editions have returned after a sordid year without them, the Crimson White will be left with the memory of Livingston, who died on April 15 after a decline in health, according to Callan Burns, Livingston’s grandson and a UA alum. 

Livingston was born a child of two sharecrop farmers in the Moores Bridge community in Tuscaloosa in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression. 

Burns said at the age of 18, Livingston enlisted in the U.S. Army right before the Korean War began and spent his free time in the army as an amateur boxer, which was often the subject of many of the stories he told family and friends. 

“He used to talk about his boxing days and how he once won a ring from one of his matches,” Burns said. “I asked him what happened to the ring, and he said he gave it to his girlfriend at the time and never saw it after that.” 

After 20 years of service, in 1967, Livingston retired from the military with a Sergeant First Class (E-7) rank and moved to Northport, Alabama, with his family, where he started doing upholstery work.

Shortly after, he enrolled at Shelton State Community College, where he learned to work on computers, which eventually helped him land a job at Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the technology department. 

“He just liked to stay busy,” Burns said. “He did a lot of odd jobs, always trying to stay active, so when the delivery job came up [at the Crimson White], he jumped at the opportunity.” 

Burns would often accompany his grandfather on his route.

He fondly recalled the mornings on their delivery route sitting next to Livingston, a proud Bama fan, who wore a red Alabama cap and sported a large Alabama Football magnet on the driver’s side of his silver pickup truck to match.  

The delivery days usually started around 4 a.m., where they would drive to the Tuscaloosa News to wait for the CW’s newspapers to finish printing. 

After arriving, Livingston would make a point to offer a friendly “hello” to the two other CW delivery drivers before he and Burns began loading the 3,200 papers into the truck bed. 

Once the 100-stack bundles were secured, they would start their trek to a relatively quiet campus, often before the sun rose. Their route would begin near Bryant-Denny Stadium and end at Rama Jama’s, making a total of 43 stops over an hour’s time.

With his window rolled down and country music playing on the radio, Burns would sit and talk with his grandfather about school, sports and his plans for the week as they rode through campus. 

Between each of the stops, Burns said Livingston would stop to pick up trash off of the sidewalk to throw away and would keep aluminum cans to take to the local scrapyard in exchange for cash. 

“We’d get like $12 for four months of collecting cans,” Burns recalled, laughing. “One time, I remember counting the change after collecting cans for a while, and it was about $650 total.” 

At each of their stops, Livingston would gather the papers from the day prior to drop them off at the recycling plant on 15th Street. He also had to keep a running tally of the old newspapers, so that the CW staff could adjust the printing numbers for the route to limit waste.

“My grandfather always counted each of the papers left over even though we only had to really give them a general estimate,” Burns said. “He was very efficient and took his job seriously.”

Kevin Rightmeyer, the district sales manager for the Tuscaloosa News, knew Livingston from his days as a delivery driver and described him as a diligent, dedicated worker. 

“He was a kind, gentle guy, and would show up like clockwork every morning ready to start his route,” he said. “He always had a smile on his face.”

Along with the seriousness, Livingston’s trademark was his friendly demeanor, and it helped to spark moments of conversation with the overnight personnel he encountered on his route.

Burn said while Livingston enjoyed all aspects of his job, one of his favorite parts was the interaction that he had with others.

“There wasn’t a morning that I was with him that a worker wouldn’t speak to my grandfather and vice versa,” Burns said. “He loved interacting with people.”

After finishing around 6 a.m., Livingston and Burns ended their morning at Hardee’s, where they would buy three sausage biscuits and some orange juice before heading home to share with Martha Livingston, Livingston’s wife who passed away in 2011.

Their connection was undeniably strong even though Burns and Livingston weren’t biologically related; Burns’s mother had been adopted. 

Regardless of this, Burns said their relationship was as meaningful and impactful as any blood relatives’, and it left an indelible mark on his life. 

Burns said the quality time he got to spend with his grandfather on the route was profoundly special. 

Unfortunately, this reality changed in 2015, after Livingston suffered a heart attack that forced him to retire from his delivery route. 

Burns said it was difficult for Livingston to give up the route because he enjoyed staying active and never remained without work or a hobby for too long. 

Without hesitance, though, Burns took over his grandfather’s route from 2015-2018. From 2017-2018, he even commuted from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa twice weekly to deliver the newspapers, while also working a full time job as a financial consultant. 

After starting graduate school, he could no longer continue the route, so his dad, Terry Burns, an employee at the State of Alabama Oil and Gas Board, took over in 2018. 

Initially, Terry Burns said he was reluctant to take over the route but later conceded at his son’s urging, sealing the deal with a handshake and a promise. 

“Callan had a special relationship with his grandfather,” Terry Burns said. “I think he wanted to keep [the route] in the family.”

When Livingston retired in 2016, the Office of Student Media presented him with a cardboard cutout of the 2016 story that the Crimson White wrote to commemorate his dedication and service to campus. 

Since then, Callan Burns said people would often stop to ask him how his grandfather was doing. 

Last spring, the Crimson White shifted to an online publishing format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than a year, The Crimson White published its first printed edition in April since the start of the pandemic. 

As normal operations return, Callan Burns hopes that he or his father can pick the route up once again, continuing the legacy Livingston started back in 2000. 

Ultimately, he credits Livingston for showing him the importance of generosity, service and a strong work ethic, which were all in large part galvanized by their time spent together delivering newspapers on campus.

“Continuing the route would bring back the rich memories I have of riding alongside my grandfather on those early mornings,” he said. “It’s where he showed me the value of hard work and service.”