MOUNT DESERT — Diane Miller got her start in the mail delivery business when she was 9 years old, helping Maisie Smallidge in the summer as she drove her postal route in West Tremont.
Smallidge paid her 25 cents a day.
This Friday (April 28), Miller will retire after 31 years as a permanent employee of the U.S. Postal Service on Mount Desert Island, the past two-and-a-half years as postmaster in Northeast Harbor. Before that, she was postmaster in Bass Harbor.
“I’ve loved working for the post office,” she said last week. “I just love getting up and doing the mail; I always have. And you work with so many dedicated, committed people. I’m going to miss it.”
As for her interactions with postal customers, Miller said, “It’s nice to be part of everybody’s day and hear little bits and pieces of what’s going on with them. I’m going to miss that.”
Why, then, is she retiring?
“I want to be outside, not in a building anymore,” she said. “And while I’m still physically able, I want to do all the things I’ve been wanting to do, like planting, landscaping.”
Miller said working in the post office in Northeast Harbor in July and August is always “very intense” because the population triples and some people have very high expectations. She recalled one day last summer when a prominent and well-connected summer resident came into the post office to check his box and found it empty.
“I have no mail,” he told Miller. “That’s unacceptable.”
“Well, I can’t make people write to you,” she responded.
The customer apparently didn’t appreciate that, so he said, “I want to speak to the postmaster.”
“You are,” she told him.
To which he replied, “Then I want to speak to the postmaster general.”
Miller’s grandmother, Elsie Lawson, was at one time postmaster in West Tremont. When Miller was 16, Lawson hired her to work part-time in the post office there.
Some years later, after she was married and had children, Miller started working part-time in the Seal Cove post office. She then got a permanent position as a clerk at the Northeast Harbor post office, where she worked for 16 years.
Then came eight months as postmaster in Seal Cove and a dozen years as postmaster in Bass Harbor. She transferred to Northeast Harbor when the Bass Harbor post office’s business hours were cut and the postmaster’s pay reduced.
Miller has no doubt that working for the post office was what she was always meant to do.
“It’s important to people, and you like to be part of that,” she said. “If they’re expecting something to come in the mail, then I’d find myself looking for it, too. It’s fun to be part of that.”
Kathy Kauffman, currently a clerk in the Blue Hill post office, will be officer in charge of the Northeast Harbor post office until a new postmaster is named.