Published in the Tacoma News Tribune
April 16, 2012

THE POSTMAN

We all have mentors in our lives. Sometimes it’s a teacher, a father, a mother, or maybe someone you worked with. For years, I thought my mentor was The Postman.

I got my first real job when I was barely nineteen – a little mortgage company on 10th and “A” Street, downtown Tacoma. I didn’t even know what a mortgage was – I wish I still didn’t.

Never having worked in an office before, I didn’t quite know what to expect on my first day. As I choked down the nervousness, I was led down two flights of stairs to the basement, where all the women worked. I looked around at the windowless room, linoleum floor, and gun-metal-gray desks and wondered if I would be able to last a week. That’s where I began a 25-year career.

On payday, an older gentleman (who might have been thirty-five at the time) came down to the basement. He always wore a blue suit and carried a stack of envelopes. He began near the steps, stopping at each desk to exchange pleasantries. At the end of the conversation, he handed that person an envelope, shook their hand, and moved on to the next. My co-workers told me he was The Postman – and I believed them.

Month after month, our paychecks were delivered in that manner. I was there two years before someone finally told me that the gentleman in the blue suit, who I called The Postman, was Mr. VanDeMark, the president of our company.

The next payday, when Mr. VanDeMark handed me my paycheck, shook my hand, and thanked me, I asked him why he did that. Why did he take time out of his busy day to hand deliver paychecks to the basement? His response was something I kept with me the rest of my life. He said, “It’s the right thing to do!” Then he stopped for a moment and added, “We’re a success because we’re a team. I want to show my appreciation for your hard work.”

Years later, he left the company for greener pastures and his vice president carried on the tradition. When the company was sold and I took on a new job, I was in a position to pass out the paychecks to my own staff. I wonder if they thought I was the post lady the first time it happened. Month after month, year after year, my staff came to depend on that delivery to their individual desks. They looked forward to a quick chat, maybe a joke, but always a “thank you”.

If I happened to be out of the office on payday, my department heads picked up the paychecks and hand delivered them to the staff. They never asked why; they just knew it was the right thing to do!

Several years ago, the company I worked for automated the paycheck system and required the staff to have their funds automatically deposited into their required checking or savings accounts. It was the end of an era, and I thought about Mr. VanDeMark who was, by then, retired.

That Christmas I enclosed a personal letter with his annual Christmas card, telling him the story of The Postman. I thought he might appreciate knowing that some of the most valuable lessons he taught were unintended. He taught by example, and I thanked him for the legacy.

Two months later, he called to tell me how much that letter meant to him. His voice cracked during the conversation, and the effort brought tears to my eyes. Six months later, I attended his funeral.

How lucky I was. I was given the chance to thank him, and I took it. How many moments like that pass you by? How many moments like that do you get? It was the right thing to do!

Glenda Cooper has recently published her
first novel, The Road to Lost and Found.
She lives in Tacoma  with her  husband Jim
and their Old English sheepdog Reilly.

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