Woman retires from post office after 48 years

Published 1:06 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

Carolyn Gray began her last day at the Montevallo Post Office as any other. She clocked in at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, tied her navy blue apron around her waist and cranked open the reception window to greet her first customer.

“You know today’s my last day. I’ve been here 48 years,” Gray told Dennis Whitehead. “It seems like yesterday when I came to work.”

“This is your last day? I didn’t know that,” a shocked Whitehead said while purchasing a money order. “She’s the only person that’s been at this window, and I’ve been coming here for 20 years.”

As Gray gave Whitehead his change, the two said their goodbyes.

“We’re gonna miss you Ms. Gray,” Whitehead said. “You take care of yourself, and we’re gonna be asking about you.”

“I’m gonna miss you too,” Gray said. “And I’m gonna miss this.”

Exchanges like these were frequent as customers gave their best wishes to Gray, who started at the Montevallo Post Office in 1961. Her young colleagues joke she was appointed to the post during President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, but she pays them no mind.

As a little girl, Gray dreamed of working for the government, and a job in the U.S. Postal Service fulfilled that dream.

“I either wanted to be a foreign missionary or work for the government,” she said. “Back when I grew up we didn’t have much … livestock and children ran and played together. So working for the government was safe and secure in a child’s mind.”

Gray familiarized herself with her duties and the people who patronized her window. Many of her customers grew up before her eyes, and she’s been a mother figure to University of Montevallo students separated from their families by hundreds or thousands of miles.

“Many times I was the closest link to home for the international students at the university,” she said. “When they came back for the next semester, they’d usually bring me something.”

Gray also doled out relationship advice to love stricken coeds, and assisted them in choosing an ideal postage stamp for their love letters.

“Let’s say you have a fish stamp. You can draw little fish on the envelope and write a little funny message that says, ‘I’m gonna swim right up to your heart or through your heart,” she said. “And if you’re really crazy about someone, you turn the stamp upside down. That means you love them. The kids just don’t do that anymore.”

Gray added, “To me the post office is a romantic place. When I started here we didn’t have cell phones and all these e-mails. I don’t want the art of letter writing to die because that’s so important.”

Gray’s customers wonder what the post office will do without her. She’s become a fixture in the community, they say. But Gray assured everyone the post office will go on, and so will she.

“The post office has been good to me and I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said. “I feel like God opened this door and God just closed it. It’s time for me to go.”