In Manassas, 'She Is the Post Office'

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 27, 2008

Manassas resident Joyce Rowand equates one thing with the Old Town post office -- and it's not mail.

Instead, the 88-year-old associates the quaint facility with the familiar face and contagious laugh of longtime postal clerk Edna Lawson.

"To me, she is the post office, and when you need something, you just go to Edna," Rowand said. "She knows everything and is always there. It's very comforting to see something stay the same in this Northern Virginia area, when there is so much always changing."

But going to the post office won't be the same after year's end for Rowand and other customers who have come to know Lawson. After 42 years of service, the sales and services associate is set to retire.

"She's become part of my day, and things won't be the same when she's gone," said Manassas resident Robert Pattie, who has visited the office almost daily for 32 years to pick up mail in his postal box. "I've been joking about her retirement for years. Every time they raise the postal rate, I tease her that her retirement fund is increasing. . . . She is going to be missed."

Lawson, 68, joined the Postal Service immediately after graduating from Virginia State University. Although she planned to be a nurse, the postal job opened up. She hasn't looked back since.

"I always say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " Lawson said, explaining why she has stayed all these years. "I was out of school, needed a job, and this is what was available. Although at first, they called me and only had an opening for a carrier. I said 'Forget it' because I don't like the extreme temperatures. I said, 'Call me when you get a clerk opening.' A week later, they did."

Lawson arrived in 1966 and remembers her first day clearly, she said. It was a time when workers wore white, gold and blue shirts sporting the Postal Service emblem and when job training was not provided.

"The first day I started, I came in, they handed me a drawer and said, 'You are going to work the counter,' " Lawson said.

"You learned from your mistakes. If you were short in cash at your drawer, you would be pulling out your checkbook to make up for it. Luckily, I never had to pay."

When Lawson arrived, first-class stamps were 5 cents, and everything was done manually, not by computers. Packages could be tied with strings, and clerks did not have to ask whether anything fragile, liquid or perishable was inside boxes.

Lawson said she has also watched people try to ship "just about everything you can imagine" over the years. People will move using the postal system instead of renting a truck or send such items as tires, poultry, live chicks, bees and crickets.

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