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.
Lawson, who is outgoing and friendly, said she loves the small-town atmosphere that has remained at the Old Town office. It is a place where customers come in just to say hi or bring goodies during the holidays.
"She likes strawberry milkshakes and homemade cookies, so I try to bring those to her when I can," Pattie said. "She has become a great friend who always goes that extra mile with customers."
Postal officials said that although Lawson isn't the longest-serving employee in Virginia, she holds that title in Manassas, which has three postal stations.
And, Lawson said, her customers don't let her forget that she has been around "forever."
"I get things like 'Mrs. Lawson, you are still here? I used to see you when I came here with my dad,' " Lawson said. "People tease me all the time. Once I was even asked if I was here during the Pony Express times."
Lawson said she has worked with two generations of one family, Mark Swank Jr. and his son Mark Swank, the latter of whom still works at the office.
"I say I came in with the old man and I am going out with the boy," she said. "We are like one big family here, and I'm just having a ball."
Lawson said retirement will be an adjustment but won't take long to get used to. Arthritis in her knees is making it harder to stand all day, she said, and she wants to spend time with her family, which includes her husband, three children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"My husband, William [Lawson], wants me to retire because he thinks I will cook him a nice meal if I'm at home," Lawson said, laughing.
Lawson said she is also looking forward to spending more time at Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Warrenton and at the yard sales she visits to find items to donate to needy families.
And the Fauquier County resident said she plans to go back to Old Town to visit the friends she has made over the past four decades.
"Edna is a joy to see every day," Pattie said. "You grow to appreciate people who bring something extra to the job. A lot of people rely on Edna, and I don't know what I am going to do when she leaves."