News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 11, 2018
Island postmaster retires after 32 years in USPS

Susan Perez

Susan Perez retired after 32 years spent mostly as postmaster on the Island, in the United States Postal Service.

Photo courtesy of Susan Perez

by Anne Berleant

Susan Perez, who began her postal service career in the tiny Sunset office 32 years ago, retired as Stonington postmaster last November. Throughout her more than three decades making sure mail and packages were delivered to island residents and beyond, she served as a clerk in Deer Isle, postmaster in Surry and Sunset, and administrative officer for Isle au Haut.

In all those years, Perez’s post offices didn’t deliver the mail as scheduled only twice: for President Reagan’s funeral April 26, 1994, by federal decree and a day in January 2014 “because of so much snow.”

“We were open through the [1998] ice storm,” Perez remembered. “We were without power, we were without water, and we were without heat. They told us to go out in our cars to warm up. We worked with a small light around our heads.”

Perez began as the Sunset Postmaster Relief in 1985 before transferring to Deer Isle in 1987 as clerk, which she said turned her into a “career” postal employee. In 2007, she returned for five years as the full-time postmaster to Sunset until a restructuring kept the post office open only four hours a day and eliminated her position.

“I either had to find another [post office] job somewhere or was done,” Perez recalled. A postmaster opening in Surry took her off island for two years, until the postmaster position in Stonington opened in 2014.

“I applied and got it,” Perez said. “Stonington is a beautiful spot. The people are lovely.”

Perez saw plenty of changes throughout her postal service years, she said, in the way of operating and the types of mail that passed through. As in all industries, technology and automation affected the postal service and her job. Where sales were once noted in a cashbook, first came scanners, then computers, and finally point-of-sale software, she said. Forwarding mail, once done by hand, became automated. Safety and management oversight increased, and mail started coming in from the Hampden sorting facility in box-numerical order.

Perez ended up doing “a lot more administration and paperwork,” instead of what she liked best, customer service, like making sure medicine quickly made it into customer’s postal box, and that packages and cards were delivered, no matter how they were addressed.

“There’s a lot of private detective work. You figure out your customers,” she said. One summer, a letter arrived general delivery in Sunset addressed only to “Grammy and Pops.” Perez figured out who it belonged to based on a remark a summer resident once made while mailing a letter to his grandson. “You always feel great when that happens,” she said.

“I felt privileged to serve all my customers throughout the years,” Perez said. “The thank yous and the appreciation I received far outweigh any negativism.”

Now that she is no longer running the Stonington, or any other, post office, Perez plans to watch her younger grandchildren when they are off school, garden and “hibernate for the winter”—a big change from making sure the mail gets delivered six days a week, no matter the weather.