A taco, a squid and a Viking walk onto a school bus.
No, this isn’t the beginning of a cheesy dad joke but rather the beginning of an average day in the life of Rob Livingston. Since 2013, he has donned a unique hat every weekday and chaffered kids to Tuscaloosa County schools, using the moniker “Man Under the Hat.” Rob never planned on driving a school bus, nor enjoying the ride, but God had bigger plans for him than he could have ever imagined.
Anyone who knows Rob can see his love for kids of all ages and how his face lights up whenever kids are around. And his face lights up even more whenever he adorns his already bright red goatee with a small strand of battery-powered Christmas lights. But that’s the kind of genius that makes Rob a hero among adolescents.
His love for kids started long before he became a dad, or worked as a children’s minister, school teacher or bus driver. It started back in high school when he tutored elementary school kids for the first time. “That is when I realized I wanted to work with kids,” Rob shared with me. “Never did I believe I would have the opportunity and the blessing to work with so many kids over the years.” That was the moment God planted the seed in his heart for helping kids, and over the past two decades it has blossomed into a full-blown forest.
In 1997, Rob moved to Alabama from Pennsylvania to attend college and march in the Million Dollar Band. During his freshman year, he decided to major in elementary education. Five years after that, he was a first-grade teacher at Faucett-Vestavia Elementary School. After that, he taught third grade at Holt Elementary and then third and fourth grades at Huntington Elementary.
“I loved teaching and felt like I would never do anything else,” Rob recalls. Yet, eleven short years into his teaching career, God called him to reach even more kids.
The year before Rob graduated from UA, he had desired to stay in Alabama. That’s when he decided to rely on God’s plan for his future. “I prayed, God if it is Your will, please allow me to get a job this summer working with kids.”
The day after Rob prayed about his immediate future, he was given a job interview for a camp counselor position at Chapel Hill Baptist Church. This wasn’t just an answer to prayer for Rob but also for Chapel Hill. As Rob puts it, “Little did I know that 17 years later I would be running that same camp.”
After working with the summer camp for some time, Rob felt God wanted him to volunteer at Chapel Hill in coordinating the various areas within the children’s ministry. Then, in 2006, he became the church’s official volunteer Children’s Minister. After six years volunteering, Rob felt God leading him in another direction. “The Lord told me I was done teaching in the classroom. I did not know what that meant until a few months later.” That’s when he officially became the full-time Children and Recreation Minister at Chapel Hill.
Rob loved his new job, but wasn’t quite ready to quit the county school system or give up his current insurance. His solution? Learn to drive a school bus.
His first bus route was for a group of middle and high school students. This was not Rob’s typical target audience after years of elementary classrooms and children’s church. So, when Halloween rolled around, he wore a wig to work to try and lighten the mood. The kids immediately started asking questions. Seeing how this opened them up to conversation, Rob wore more wigs and eventually transitioned into hats with an umbrella hat.
Popping open that umbrella hat helped open up a shy kid who hadn’t spoken to Rob all year. Rob wore another umbrella hat near the end of the school year, and the same kid commented that he always wanted a hat like that one. “That afternoon as he got off my bus I took that hat off my head and handed it to him and said, ‘Now you have one.’ Six months after, he would wear that hat the last day I drove his bus before I switched to an elementary route.”
Seeing the impression it made on this young man and other kids, Rob started wearing different hats and asking a random question each day. This helped the kids interact even more. Imagine a man with a squid on his head asking What’s your favorite animal? Or, maybe he’s dressed as Cat in the Hat and wants to know your favorite book. Rob often posted a hat selfie with his question to social media, which is where the hashtag #manunderthehat originated.
The last day of the school year, Rob decided to give kids something deeper to think about over the summer break. His final question: “How can you affect others in a positive way today?”
As someone who knows Rob personally, I feel quite certain that Rob asks himself that question every day. Whether it’s choosing from one of his 250 hats (many with their own stories worthy of separate articles) or helping me find the right Bible to engage my inquisitive six-year-old son, Rob Livingston lives to make the world a better place—for all ages.
Rob is now the Minister of Children, Recreation and Administration at Chapel Hill and parked his bus for the last time in 2019. For that last ride with Rob, kids made cards and signs, and many of them brought their own hats to wear in his honor. Knowing this was the ending to a pivotal season in his ministry, Rob teared up a little when he asked his final question. “After all the kids got off the bus I just sat looking in the review mirror at the empty bus and thanked God for the opportunity I had to pour into these kids’ lives.”
Despite ending a bittersweet bus route, Rob’s journey is nowhere near parking. “What God started 17 years ago is still being played out. I am excited to see what He has in store for me on this new adventure.”
This December, Rob will have the honor of wearing a graduation cap when he receives his master’s degree from New Orleans Theological Seminary after six long years of studying while juggling multiple jobs and family life. And in his spare time, Rob wears mouse ears, since he recently became a travel agent with Travelmation specializing in Disney vacations.
Of course, the most important hat Rob will ever wear and the one he never takes off is his family hat. Rob is blessed to be the father of three awesome kids and the husband to a supportive wife who shares his passion for ministering to others in everyday life.