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Safeway's 'Unofficial Grandmother'

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Sally Dickerson turned 85 last week and is not retiring anytime soon.

"You trying to get rid of me?" she asked, joking with her co-workers in the break room at a Safeway in Silver Spring as they ate slices of her birthday cake. One of the employees solemnly nodded his head. Dickerson laughed.

"You'll be gone before I will," she shot back.

Dickerson is the oldest of Safeway's roughly 200,000 full-time employees across the country and has been working for the company for more than half a century. She started on Sept. 12, 1955, at what was then Safeway No. 733 on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton as a checker and stocker and moved to store No. 799 in the Twinbrook area as a teller a few years later. But for most of her career, she has been at the Kensington Safeway, watching children grow into parents.

Dickerson was at the opening of the Kensington store on Dec. 9, 1964, and was there on June 14, 2006, when the store closed for rebuilding. She has been working at a store in Silver Spring while the Kensington building was demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. The new Safeway is scheduled to open Thursday, and Dickerson will return as a guest of honor, though she intends to continue working in Silver Spring.

"She's the unofficial grandmother -- or great-grandmother," said Gary Knight, who used to manage the Kensington store and now heads a Safeway in Gaithersburg. "She's the icon."

Dickerson started working when her husband joined the Army during World War II. She was at Kroger and A&P before her brother-in-law, who managed a Safeway in Richmond, encouraged her to apply for a job with the company. That's when Dickerson found her calling.

"One thing led to another and first thing I know, it's been 52 years," she said. "It's just like a second home to me."

Dickerson's husband, who died several years ago, used to work as a Safeway secret shopper. Each of her four children has also worked at Safeway. One daughter, Debbie Lipscomb, works at the company as an administrative assistant for a district manager. But Dickerson outpaced them all.

"I watched her check one time, and she makes me tired," Lipscomb said. "If this is something that she likes and it's keeping her young, I say, my goodness, keep going until she's gone."

Knight has known Dickerson since he was about 5 years old. She and his mother were both cashiers at the Wheaton store and wore green polyester uniforms with their hair teased into beehives. Dickerson wore cat-eye glasses and always had a tan, even in the dead of winter, Knight recalled.

These days, Dickerson's hair is dyed the color of honey and carefully sprayed into place. She's partial to i.d. BareMinerals makeup and shunned a slice of her own birthday cake to maintain her figure.

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