Estella Pyfrom, a Belle Glade-born daughter of farmworkers who capped a career in education by coming out of retirement and bringing computer technology to the underserved, has died at age 85.
Pyfrom was heralded as a hero for launching Estella’s Brilliant Bus, a custom school bus outfitted with 17 computer stations to bring internet connection to rural and under-connected communities in Palm Beach County.
The bus won her recognition at the White House during the Obama Administration, and in 2015, the bus was featured in a Microsoft commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.
Pyfrom, who lived in suburban West Palm Beach, died Wednesday after a lengthy illness that had hospitalized her a handful of times in the last year, according to her family and friends.
“She was phenomenal,” Pyfrom’s friend Daphne Taylor told The Palm Beach Post on Saturday. “We will keep her legacy going.”
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Inside the bus: All aboard Miss Estella’s Brilliant Bus
$1 million and a dream to connect kids to the internet
Pyfrom’s family said they will keep Estella’s Brilliant Bus running and connecting children to vital technology.
Friends remember her as a fiercely passionate person who didn’t handle nonsense.
“Estella is a pistol,” Taylor said. “She will give you the world and do everything for you, but she has no problem putting you in correction.”
Pyfrom launched her brilliant bus project in 2011 after retiring from a 50-year teaching career with the Palm Beach County School District. She invested $1 million of her retirement savings in the bus, which was on the road four days a week from Riviera Beach to Lake Worth to West Palm Beach to Pahokee.
She was 75 years old when Taylor said she came into her true passion — making sure kids were on the right side of the “digital divide.” In 2015, Pyfrom estimated she’d reached around 60,000 children with her Brilliant Bus.
The bus gave them space to work on computers, hone their reading and vocabulary skills and learn their way around a keyboard.
Pyfrom’s brilliant bus won recognition from far and wide
Pyfrom’s work turned heads toward Palm Beach County and the gap in internet connectivity.
In 2013, she was recognized for her work during a White House ceremony. Pyfrom was designated as a “point of light” — part of a program that recognizes ideas and innovation by Americans focused on giving back.
Former President George H. W. Bush established the program in 1989 and named a “point of light” nearly every day of his White House tenure. His organization has since continued the recognition.
The honor, presented by former President Barack Obama, was something Pyfrom said she never imagined, certainly not when she was a 6-year-old girl picking beans and moving from farm to farm with her parents.
Her upbringing, she said, helped her relate to the children she serves now.
“I pretty much know and understand how it feels to be without,” she said.
In 2015, Pyfrom was featured in a 60-second commercial that aired during the third quarter of the Super Bowl where the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks.
The spot was narrated by the rapper Common, who recited passages from speeches by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft paid for the commercial.
“I had an idea. A bus t
hat brings technology to the kids that need it most …” Pyfrom said in the commercial, which was shot in Belle Glade.
The commercial highlighted her work and contributions from a Microsoft grant program. A crew later updated her bus computer stations and supplied 28 new tablets for the program.
Pyfrom’s family hopes to hold a celebration of her life Jan. 8. The location has not yet been determined.