Route customers deliver warm wishes to carrier Goodbye: The cards of congratulations keep coming for retiring mail carrier Tom Merson. He's flattered, he says, but, after all, he was just doing his job.

September 09, 1996|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After delivering 37 years' worth of mail to hundreds of Ellicott City businesses and residents, Tom Merson, 61, now is on the other side of the mailbox, receiving about 60 cards congratulating him on his recent retirement as a mail carrier -- from people on his former routes.

As Merson made his final stops along his route in late July, some people took pains to let him know he would be missed. At Howard County Medical Building on Chevrolet Drive, employees at Diagnostic Radiology Associates gave him a gift certificate for dinner.

Jeanne Steiner, 42, an X-ray technician at Diagnostic, said she's known Merson for at least for nine years. "He is an all-around great guy who is very warm and caring," she said. "He made us feel that we are all family."

Cathy Taylor, 38, agreed that Merson went beyond his duties to help her during most of the 10 years she's been working in the office of Dr. Luke Terry, an internist.

"If you had a question, he would go to the post office to find the answer. He would even get stamps for you or would take a package," she said. "On his last day, we were all crying and hugging. We made him promise he would stop by and see us."

Although Merson was touched by such accolades, he said he didn't see what all the fuss was about -- he was just doing his job.

But the people along his former route said his helpfulness sometimes extended beyond the job description.

During the "early days," he admitted, he would sometimes put up a mailbox or pick up a prescription for an elderly person.

"We had more time in the early years to chat with people," he said. "In an emergency, I would go to the store for some older people who needed me. I tried to treat people the way I would like to be treated. If you go out of your way to help people, they will help you."

Merson began delivering mail in July 1959, earning $2 an hour. It was the same year he and his wife, Pat, moved into their home on Old Columbia Pike.

He was the first "city carrier" to serve Ellicott City -- before he came along, residents and merchants had to pick up their mail at the post office on Main Street.

After mailboxes had been installed and a numbering system initiated, Merson walked his route along Main Street and the rolling hills of the side streets, where he confesses the bag he carried "got really heavy."

After 1 1/2 years in downtown Ellicott City, Merson was given a truck to use on his next route along Montgomery Road. Serving the new developments that included Worthington and Montgomery Knolls, he struggled to reach the mailboxes on the right side of the road from the truck -- and acknowledges driving on the wrong side of the street to deliver the mail.

Through the years, Merson drove newer mail trucks through newer neighborhoods and shopping centers that kept springing up along U.S. 40, until his last route, which included St. Johns Lane, Chevrolet Drive and areas along U.S. 29 and Interstate 70. He served those neighborhoods for nine years.

Two years ago, Merson received the National Safety Council's Safe Driving Award presented by the U.S. Postal Service to mail carriers with unblemished driving records. In 1993, he was recognized as the Baltimore region's Carrier of the Year by the National Association of Letter Carriers, Oriole Branch 176.

Neither rain nor hail ever prevented Merson from delivering mail, although three or four days of heavy snow -- in 37 years -- did hamper his efforts. Dogs were not a serious problem, though Merson received minor bites three or four times -- the result of trying to deliver packages to people who had assured him, "My dog won't bite."

Not even a prankster could deter Merson from his deliveries.

"One time, I opened up a mailbox, and there was a dead squirrel facing me," he said. "It surprised me, but I put the mail on top of the squirrel and continued my route."

Merson said his job gave him insight into the lives of the people he served.

"If they don't get much mail and then they get six cards, you realize it's their birthday. You pick up on stuff," he said. "If you are on the route long enough, you know about part of their lives, like where they may work, and you can use that in conversation and you get to know them."

Merson said he enjoyed his years as a mail carrier.

"I loved the postal service," he said. "I was always seeing people. There were occasional bad days, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else I might have done, considering my high school education."

As for the good wishes from his customers, Merson had trouble expressing his feelings.

"I am overwhelmed with the response," he said, "and I can't understand how people are so nice and overwhelmingly generous to me when I was just doing a job that I got paid to do."

Pub Date: 9/09/96

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