After 34 years in the postal service, including eight as Vaughn postmaster, DeeDee Emmett will retire June 30 at “a very young 59-and-a-half” years old, she said.
Emmett started at the post office in 1987 after her mother told her what a great job it was.
“I was making $6 an hour and went up to $11.87 at the plant in Tacoma on Pine Street,” Emmett said.
“The plant” is the processing center where all mail “this side of Seattle” is sorted, she said.
“When you’re in the plant you’re in one side of the house. Trying to get into customer service was really tough.”
Emmett was promoted to management in 1995 and spent 15 years in labor relations and human resources before coming to Vaughn.
“Ever since I became a supervisor I was trying to figure out how to get my own post office,” she said. The Tacoma postmaster recommended her for the job in Vaughn.
“I said, ‘Where the heck is Vaughn?’ ”
Emmett had been living on Fox Island since 1993, where she filled in at the post office during holiday seasons. “But after a few months of being here, I couldn’t be happier,” she said.
“I adore the Key Peninsula, not just Vaughn, because I get all the people that live between the Lakebay post office and here, and the people that belong to the Wauna post office that have Gig Harbor zip codes come here because it’s closer for them,” she said.
“When I first came here there were 745 rented post office boxes and now I have 860. I’d like to think that some of that is because people enjoy coming here. I’m proud of that.”
There are two part-time employees at the Vaughn post office in addition to Emmett. She’s had nine over the last eight years: two got married and left, two got full-time positions elsewhere, two retired and three moved to jobs closer to home.
“It’s been tough,” she said. But that’s not the hardest part of the job.
“You can’t go home and turn it off. I get Facebook messages about packages. What do you want me to do about your package when it’s 8 o’clock at night?” she said. “And the first thing I do when I wake up is look at my phone to see if my clerks have messaged me about anything.”
Emmett has also learned about the limits of her authority.
“I was probably here less than three months and a customer came in who hadn’t picked up his mail in forever and his rent was overdue. He said he’d been in the hospital after being diagnosed with cancer from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. I said, ‘OK, do you have anything that shows you were in the hospital, because then I can waive your late fee, which is $20.’ And he says ‘Yeah, in my mail probably.’ So, he got his mail and there’s a hospital bill that shows that he’s been in there for months. The guy is dying of cancer and he served our country, so I waive the fee. Then I get a phone call a couple days later from headquarters in Seattle and they say ‘Who is going to pay that late fee?’ I said ‘Not me.’ My boss was also on the call and she said ‘DeeDee has explained herself quite well. Let’s move on.’ ”
Dealing with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have made the job harder, Emmett said.
“I’d say 90% of the people that come in are happy we’re still here. But then that 10% have forgotten how to communicate, how to be civil. People are upset about having to wear a mask. People point their phone at me and say, ‘This says my package is here.’ If you don’t have a slip in your box, your package isn’t here. That part has gotten to me.”
Emmett also said that while she is very proud of her work, it has become harder for her to defend the post office after recent cuts and changes in service.
“For 26 years I worked at that plant (in Tacoma) before I came here, I kept thinking if I ever get my own post office, I will make sure that my customers aren’t complaining about their experience. I can’t do anything about your package being lost somewhere, but if I can affect you here in my office, I’m going to do it. It’s a small part of the big ocean of the postal service but I was proud to do it.”
After retirement, Emmett said, “I don’t want to set my alarm unless I’m getting on an airplane. I’ve got $4,000 in airline credits, and I’ve never been to Europe.”
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