The dogs on Scott Arnold’s U.S. Postal Service route were the first to sense his arrival Saturday afternoon, panting with excitement even before Arnold’s mail truck had emerged into view of the families gathered on Wemberly Way. Pups and people alike eagerly waited to greet the man, now on his last day of work, who had brought them so much more than just their mail.
When Arnold’s white truck finally rounded the corner, cowbells rang. Kids and parents clapped. Some wiped away tears. Arnold, still in his light-blue uniform, was met by his adoring crowd, evidently in shock.
“I’m not worthy,” he said, shaking his head.
Arnold and his best friend in the Postal Service, Rob Receveur, both had served McLean for years, and this past week, both were celebrated as they hung up their mailbags.
Arnold, 67, had worked the same route for about 30 years. He has comforted in times of death, celebrated in times of joy. He has known children since they were born and watched them grow up to have their own kids. His presence was steadfast through changing landscapes, both physical and political. He had, the neighborhood agreed, helped shape the people who live here into a community.
Eventually, the crowd gathered on a neighbor’s lawn for a picture. After they posed, Arnold spoke — albeit briefly.
“I usually have a lot of words. But I have none,” he started. “Thank you all so, so much.” The crowd echoed its thanks back.
“You’re all family to me, and you’re always here in my heart,” he said. “I will never forget this day, never.”
Cowbells rang out again as the crowd clapped. “You’re the man,” one man shouted.
It’s hard to quantify Arnold’s legacy, but you can sense his effect by how the neighborhood’s residents have shifted their lives to remain close to him. One man said that when he and his family were planning to move within McLean, they made sure to choose a house that would still be on his route. Another woman flew up from Florida for the chance to say goodbye.
But Arnold’s greatest fans might be the dogs of the neighborhood. Dog owners shared how their pets anticipated his truck before it showed up to their mailbox and would excitedly wait for their daily treat.
On Saturday, Kay Burnell wore a necklace fashioned from the personalized Christmas stockings Arnold makes every year for the dogs on his route. The tradition, which includes a note from “Santa Paws,” is one he will be remembered for, many said.
Receveur, 63, has served a nearby McLean route for about 13 years, he said, and would often sit in the back of Arnold’s truck helping him make those Santa Paws deliveries. On Thursday afternoon, Receveur’s customers gathered to honor his own last day, and all the essential days before.
“Rob has not only been the letter carrier for many years, but he was our life line especially during the last 2½ years,” Maria Dakolias, who lives on Receveur’s route, wrote in a message to The Washington Post. “Early on in the pandemic, he was one of the only people outside our house that we actually saw in person. We anxiously awaited his arrival every day to see what he was delivering, we met him on our walks with the dogs, we chatted about American history and music and life during covid.”
After years of service, Receveur said, he realized it’s the people who make it worth it.
“In the long run, what has really got me through was the customers and their kindness,” he said. “That’s what you take home with you in your heart.”
Neither mail carrier was looking forward to leaving their community and professions, they said, but both look forward to spending more time on hobbies and with family.
“The one thing that was holding me back was leaving this, leaving them,” Arnold said, gesturing to the crowd Saturday. “But I was thinking with my heart instead of my head,” he continued. “I can’t do this forever. I want to spend some time with my grandkids.”
He and Receveur will also spend more time with their respective fan bases: Many of their customers, they said, have turned into friends.
When families began dispersing after Arnold’s send-off, he started heading back to his truck to finish. Walking back, he passed several lawn signs congratulating him on his retirement and celebrating his years in the neighborhood.
He got back in his truck, put on his glasses and waved.