They closed off part of Walton Road in Bethesda Saturday to honor a man who had walked that street for 11 years.
More than 50 residents threw a block party for Jamie Burchick, a 33-year-old mailman who has come to know many of the 280 families along his route, south of the Beltway and just west of Old Georgetown Road. His patrons say they cherish the small-town friendliness and personal touches he brought to the job.
Earlier this month, Burchick's route was abolished and divided among the 39 other carriers at the West Bethesda Post Office. Burchick, a letter carrier for 14 years and winner of his service's superior accomplishment award, has been made a "floater," with a new route assignment every few days.
Gary Ballard, officer in charge of the Bethesda Post Office, said the "territorial adjustment" was made in the name of efficiency -- to help save fuel and time.
Burchick, however, said his route was cut because "they thought I was too personable.
"I can justify my personal relationships with the people I deliver to. I think it benefits them and the post office. . . . Ever since the zip codes changed . . . they've wanted us to be impersonal."
Ballard said it is "absolutely not true" Burchick's route was abolished because of his friendliness. "I would never tolerate that. I'd be very proud of a carrier like that. There is nothing that takes priority over the public image of the letter carrier on the street."
Since Burchick's departure, mail that once came in the morning now comes in the late afternoon. Much as they would like to see morning delivery reestablished, residents said, they're more concerned about getting Burchick back. "He's part of the neighborhood," said party organizer Arlene Howard.
"Jamie was the first person to welcome us to the neighborhood when we moved in," said Caitilin Gordon, of 5803 Walton Rd. "He's always been a real true human being."
Burchick is the kind of mailman who puts bills at the bottom of residents' stacks of letters, who knows who on his route is sick and who is on vacation. He can be asked for advice on car rebuilding and teen-ager psychology.
"Out of all the 40 carriers in West Bethesda, Jamie's definitely the best," said John Mazzullo, a colleague of Burchick's who has taken over much of his route.
Tales of Burchick's quiet friendliness are legendary along his old 15-block route.
John Hart, 21, a music student who played the fiddle at the block party, recalled "looking up to Jamie" while growing up. "I would look out the window and when I saw Jamie coming, I would go out and walk with him," Hart said. "He's was always interested in what you had to say."
Burchick kept an eye on the neighborhood, residents said, just as they kept an eye out for him.
"People would tell me they could set their clock by me," the mail carrier said. "But I knew I was really successful when children on my route would say, 'I want to be a mailman when I grow up.' "
Burchick, who grew up in Greenbelt, lives in Hyattsville with his wife and three children. "I knew when I was in college that I wanted to work with people in a positive way, and I think my job fulfills that," he said.
Before joining the post office in 1969, Burchick was a lead singer in a rock group that played at local Catholic Youth Organization functions. He has put his college major -- recreation -- to work volunteering as a choir director, baseball coach and Boy Scout cubmaster.
Burchick would like his old route back. "There's talk of bringing back a route," he said, "and I hope it's mine.
"I was brought up in a religious family. We were taught that if you do good, good will come to you. I look around here," he said, gesturing toward the neighborhood residents, "and I know that good has come to me."