Janet Anne Arnold, 66, letter carrier known as `the purple mail lady'

September 03, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Janet Anne Arnold, a retired letter carrier who was known affectionately as "the purple mail lady of Savage," died Aug. 27 at her home along the Little Patuxent River of complications from emphysema. She was 66.

Mrs. Arnold was born Janet Anne Kirkpatrick in the nearby Howard County community of Guilford. She grew up on a farm and loved riding horses, said her son Jon Arnold of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

She graduated from Western High School in Washington in 1954 and later that year married Carleton Evans Arnold.

Mrs. Arnold worked for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., the Howard County Board of Education and Laurel Regional Hospital. But her favorite job was that of rural letter carrier for the Postal Service.

During her 20 years with the post office, Mrs. Arnold became known as "the purple mail lady of Savage" because she wore purple every day.

Even her glasses were purple, and she delivered mail from a purple Jeep.

"She was a real character in the community, not only with the color purple, but she was also very active in really taking care of her customers," Jon Arnold said. "Being the mail lady for Savage really meant taking care of the town. She took her own money, after forwarding expiration dates had expired, and put stamps on important mail."

Del. Shane Pendergrass was among the recipients of Mrs. Arnold's kindness.

Twenty years ago, when Ms. Pendergrass' husband's job forced the family to move temporarily to England, Mrs. Arnold made sure they received a piece of forwarded mail that looked important, Ms. Pendergrass said.

"We must have been gone for more than a year, because the mail had stopped being forwarded," she said. "Jan saw something that looked important, so she put her own stamp on it and sent it to us. ... It was the third notice saying that if we didn't pay our property tax, the county was going to auction our house off for our taxes due. If it hadn't been for Jan, our house would have been auctioned off by Howard County."

Others recalled similar experiences.

Mr. Arnold and his sister Corrinne Arnold of Savage said their mother was always doing kind things for others.

"There was a lady on Washington Street who was arthritic and in a wheelchair and couldn't walk," Corrinne Arnold said. "Mom arranged for them to put her mail on her porch, just at the door, so she could get to it. She also orchestrated getting the lady's house painted by the Methodist Church."

Mrs. Arnold also gave birthday cards to customers along her route, her children said.

"She was well known in recent years for giving out birthday cards," Corrinne Arnold said. "People know once they get a card from her, it has the fairy dust, or fine glitter, in it. She always put sprinkles of glitter and little `happy birthday' confetti inside the cards. She'd also call and sing happy birthday to everybody. She had a little birthday book, and that was very important to her."

Mrs. Arnold also loved animals, but no matter how people knew her, the thing they remember most is her love of the color purple.

"I'm not really exactly sure how this whole purple thing came about," Mr. Arnold said. "As a teen-ager, when it first started, I wanted to stay as far away from my mom as possible. But then as I got older I thought she was just plain nuts, and then as my vocabulary increased I realized she was eccentric, and then I think as I got older I came to appreciate what it meant to her and also the way people reacted to it. That was her signature."

Corrinne Arnold said her mother's birthstone was amethyst, which probably led to her passion for purple.

"We all knew when we saw the purple truck that it was Jan," Ms. Pendergrass said. "She was always doing nice things for people in the community."

Mrs. Arnold, whose husband died in 1993, donated her body to the Anatomy Board of Maryland.

"That's just the fitting end for Jan, that even in death she would want to do one last nice thing for someone," Ms. Pendergrass said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Great Room of Savage Mill, 8600 Foundry St. The family suggested donations to the Janet A. Arnold Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 136, Savage 20763.

Mrs. Arnold is also survived by another son, Carleton Arnold Jr. of Ellicott City; another daughter, Amanda Bahari of Elkridge; and five grandchildren.

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