Only retirement could keep Charles Thomas from his appointed rounds.
For 35 years, Thomas delivered mail in his hometown of Linthicum,30 years on the same route. As he dropped off letters and packages Friday, he added a good-bye to the people along Cleveland, Hammonds Ferry and Greenwood roads.
"They're nice people," said Thomas, 55, who has a total of 37 years with the Postal Service. "Some people say this job must be awful monotonous, but when you meet people day after day, you form a family."
The folks on Thomas' route, many of them retired, say they will miss him just as much.
"He's a very kind individual, and most people would say he goes out of his way to help," says Thomas' sister, Edith Leach, who's been getting her mail from her brother for years.
Besides being a friendly mail carrier and a welcome sight each day, Thomas has been known to help postal patrons on his own time. He's occasionally gone to the drugstore after hours to pick up medication for senior citizens unable to get to the pharmacy or helped cut their grass, Leach said.
"Most of them consider me their son," Thomas said.
Other than a few part-time jobs he held as a teen-ager, being amailman is the only career Thomas has known.
He joined the PostalService right after high school. Except for a few years during the early 1960s, when he went to France after being drafted to work in the63rd Army Postal Unit, Thomas has walked the familiar streets of Linthicum delivering mail.
He says he got to know the people well because a walking route, unlike a curbside delivery route, takes a letter carrier right up to the houses.
Despite all the jokes about dogsand mailmen, Thomas says he's been bitten only twice.
"Once you get on the route, you get to know the dogs," he laughs.
The old Norman Rockwell stereotype of the mailman sipping coffee in a postal patron's kitchen isn't accurate, either, he says. Letter carriers get two 10-minute breaks a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and they're not allowed to go into a patron's house.
Unless, of course, the patron is your sister. Thomas says he's always tried to schedule a break around the time he delivered Leach's mail, so he could sit down for a few minutes and enjoy some "R & R."
Thomas has distinguished himself in a variety of ways during his career.
He's amember of the Million Mile Club, sponsored by the National Safety Council. The club honors workers who have driven 30 years on the job orlogged 1 million miles without an accident.
He retired with 3,100hours of unused sick leave.
And, he added, "I've gone through five different postmasters."
The Postal Service Thomas leaves is far different from the one he joined right out of high school. Then, mailmen sorted the mail themselves.
"Automation is going to make a bigdifference in the future," he said. "Down the line, carriers will spend less time in the office than they do now."
Thomas lives in Severn with his wife, Paula, and sons Chipper, 23, and Jason, 18, who both are college students.
While his sons were growing up, Thomas was active in sports programs, coaching basketball, baseball and football. Today, he remains an active member of the Masonic Lodge.
Thomas laughs when asked what he'll do with all his new-found free time. He's going to be plenty busy, he says.
"My wife has a lot of choresfor me to do. She's made a long list. A lot of 'honey-do' jobs," he says.
Staff writer Elise Armacost contributed to this story.