Terry Hutchison smiled Friday as one of his final customers wished him well in retirement. “I should’ve called in sick,” he said, chuckling. “But they’d have come and got me, probably.”
Hutchison, 61, spent Friday providing his last day of service in the lobby of Gainesville Post Office following 42 years of work as a clerk and former carrier. He said his afternoon plans were to finish the day and then close shop with his family watching him punch his timecard one last time.
After more than four decades with the postal service, he hopes to cherish retirement as much as he cherished work. “I’m just going to enjoy getting up every day with a smile on my face,” he said. “I’m not going to just go home and sit. And I’ve got two grandchildren. I’ll do volunteer work, or some fishing. I’ll do all the stuff I’d been putting off and need to catch up with.”
On Friday, the staff stocked the lobby with balloons and refreshments and mounted a series of portraits showing Hutchison with fellow employees — shots taken in years as distant as 1975 and 1984. Customer after customer, many of them long-familiar with Hutchison, stepped up to the counter and said goodbye as he sold them stamps or handled their parcels.
“I’ve enjoyed the people,” Hutchison said Friday. “And I’ve never regretted coming to work every day. Enjoyed it. At first, you deal with people, and then after a while, you get to know them. It’s, like, a one or two-minute transaction. And over the years, you kind of develop a relationship.”
Hutchison began his career with Gainesville Post Office in 1971. Prior to that, he worked two years in the Gainesville Daily Register circulation department followed by two years with JCPenney.
His first phase of postal work, he said, was walking the route as a part-time carrier until the experience led him to shift toward clerking.
“After being out in the cold and the hot, I decided, years down the road, I’d rather be inside,” he said. “And that’s when I had a regular position.”
For decades, he handled customers and worked mail distribution. He served the postal service for many years during the phase when computers were entirely absent in his industry and many others.
“Kids, nowadays, say they’ve never addressed a letter,” Hutchison said Friday, grinning. “Because they don’t teach that in school anymore. They can work their iPad but they can’t address a letter. So you actually have to show them how to ‘to-and-from’ on a letter.”
During Hutchison’s tenure, the internet bloomed change into nearly all facets of the postal routine. Tracking lost mail, for example, spindled from a matter of weeks to moments. The popularity of eBay during the late 1990s created a shipping boom, he said, that faded.
But for Hutchison, one aspect never changed: dealing with hundreds of customers per day, and he loved it. He said he rarely dealt with belligerent customers, and when he did, the very next one in line had arrived in a good mood.
“You’ve kind of got to roll with the punches,” he said, and added that
customers will get faster service with the right timing. “There are certain days you want to avoid. Avoid Monday at all costs. But then if you come later on during the week, usually, it’s not so bad.”
Hutchison said Friday he plans to keep ties with Gainesville Post Office, despite retirement. Some retirees leave their jobs after many decades doing them, and then begin a tendency of visiting their former offices as often as once a week.
He said he is aware of this, but doesn’t plan to fit that profile. “I probably won’t come back that often,” Hutchison said. “But I will. Especially when I need a book of stamps.”