School bus driver and Gayborhood resident Paula Bickel died Dec. 6 from pancreatic cancer. She was 59.
Bickel, who was born May 2, 1953, lived in the Gayborhood for the past 20 years. She was born in California and previously lived in New Jersey.
Bickel graduated from West Deptford High School in 1971 and later worked as a nurse and also as a waitress at the Down Home Diner at the Reading Terminal. She was most recently employed by Walt’s Bus Service in Pedricktown, N.J., as a bus driver — a position she thoroughly enjoyed.
“She loved the students that she picked up every day and they loved her back,” said Karen Gibbs, Bickel’s partner.
Bickel and Gibbs were together for 12 years and met at Gayborhood staple Sisters, where they were drawn to each other immediately.
“She had a house in the Gayborhood and she asked me to come back to the house with her; I didn’t sleep with her on the first night, but I also never left that house,” Gibbs said.
The meeting was perfect timing, as Bickel’s roommate was ready to move out.
“She asked if I would like to move in and I said sure. I moved in and never moved out. [Bickel] always said we had a strong connection and history.”
Gibbs was impressed with Bickel’s pride in her home.
“She kept an immaculate home and it was always clean. She always had a beautiful garden, and sometimes I would come home and there would be new furniture or new flowers in the garden,” she said.
Bickel was also a handy woman who could build things from random materials and was skilled at carpentry, Gibbs said.
The two enjoyed many road trips, Bickel’s favorite of which was Rehoboth Beach, Del. Bickel and Gibbs would go to Asbury Park in New Jersey and Jimmy Johns, a famous roadside stand in West Chester.
Bickel was a huge fan of out singer-songwriter K.D. Lang and went to see her live in concert with Gibbs, and also listened to Barbra Streisand and oldies tunes.
She was a huge sports fan and was true to her Philadelphia teams, including the Phillies and Eagles.
Bickel was also a supporter of the local drag community and often attended drag events at various bars in the city.
“She would always tip them really well,” Gibbs said.
She was a frequent face in the Gayborhood, patronizing such bars as Key West Hepburns, Le Femmes and Sneakers that have since closed and more recent establishments such as the Venture Inn, Tavern on Camac and Sisters.
Gibbs described Bickel as a very trustworthy individual, who was hard-working and got along great with others.
“She was responsible and took great pride in being just that.”
Bickel was also known for her kind nature, she added.
“She was a very kind, generous, loving and headstrong person,” Gibbs said. “She was tender and sweet. Her nickname was ‘Sweetness’ because of that quality.”
Gibbs said Bickel would continue to live forever in her family’s hearts.
In addition to Gibbs, she is survived by her daughter, Theresa Hilditch; grandsons John, Lukas and Zachary; siblings Mary Helen, Georgette, Scott and Joe. She was predeceased by her brother, Rich.
A funeral service for Bickel was held at Landolfi Funeral Home in Paulsboro, N.J., and a celebration of life ceremony is pending.
Memorial donations can be sent to any HIV/AIDS organization in the greater Philadelphia area.