Vince Martin retired at the end of 2020 as the longest-serving Postmaster in the history of the Altavista Post Office—a feat he never planned for, but in hindsight seems almost like it was meant to be.
Martin worked for Klopman Mills before starting with the Postal Service in 1981. Though he liked his job at the time, Martin said he found himself drawn to the Postal Service.
“For some reason I had this thing about wanting to become a mail carrier,” Martin said.
He started keeping in touch with the Postmaster, and was able to land a role first as a substitute rural carrier, then as a part-time city carrier, within a few months. Martin spent nine years with the Postal Service in Altavista, kicking off a decades-long process of slowly climbing the ladder.
Though Martin said managing changes, especially those related to technology, would be a recurring theme in his career, his favorite part of the job was always simply getting out and delivering the mail.
“I was getting my exercise and getting paid to do it,” Martin said about his early years in Altavista. “I made a lot of friends. I got to know every household. I mean by name, down to the children, the pets, everything. I knew everyone. And it was just really neat to make all those relationships. And a lot of them lasted a long time, even some of them to this day.”
Martin got his first taste of management after those early years in Altavista as an “officer in charge,” or OIC, in Sutherlin, before landing his first Postmaster job in Long Island shortly thereafter.
“Another really good opportunity to make friends and build relationships with people that lasted a long time,” Martin said about the post.
Martin then spent 10 years at the Lynch Station Post Office in the 90s, a post which he said he was grateful for because it allowed him to be close to his father, whose health was in decline at the time.
Martin said he remembers hearing that the postal service would begin using computers to do business during his time in Lynch Station, and bought one roughly a year before the Postal Service started using them familiarize himself with the machines—until then he had no idea how to use a computer.
“Everything just changed almost overnight,” Martin said, ”and just kept changing through the years.”
Martin also remembers the transition from sorting mail by hand to using machines that prepared it automatically, and many other technological innovations over the years.
Many mentors helped him along the way, like Kenneth Hudson, the man who first hired him, Mark Williamson, who Martin said gave him many opportunities for growth during his career, Harvey Hazelwood, who helped him start working on PCs in the 90s and Bea Robertson, the current Postmaster in Gretna and a longtime friend and mentor.
In all, Martin served as Postmaster at four different post offices and as OIC at 10.
He took a job at the Rustburg Post Office after 10 years in Lynch Station, grateful for the opportunity to work in the county seat.
With decades of experience under his belt, Martin said he never expected to return to the Altavista, comparing the task of running the town’s post office, the smallest community in the 245 Zip Area to have city routes, to riding a motorcycle, while some of his previous jobs were more like riding a scooter.
Even so, Martin heard about an opening for a Postmaster position in Altavista after spending several years in Rustburg and decided to apply.
“As fate would have it, I finished my career there,” Martin said.
Starting in February 2005, Martin would spend the next 15 years and 10 months of his career as the Postmaster in Altavista, longer than any other before him held the job. He said it’s the only office he was ever sworn into, a formality of the Postal Service that he was nevertheless grateful for, as friends, family and mentors attended the ceremony.
Martin said he felt like a page had been turned when he returned to the community nearly 16 years ago, regularly bumping into the adult children of people he got his start delivering mail to. Still, he was glad to be back where it all began.
“I’m just very grateful, very thankful to be able to have been here this long,” Martin said.
Many things had changed in his time. The main focus of many post offices was now on packages and parcels rather than first class mail.
Postmasters around the nation were devoting more time and energy than ever to the actual process of delivering the mail and providing face-to-face customer service, since many formerly time-consuming administrative tasks were now relegated to computers and other machines.
Martin said it could be frustrating at times to have to drop what he had been doing and pick up a route, but then again, walking a city route had always been one of his favorite parts of the job.
By the time his last year came around, Martin had seen a lot with the Postal Service. There wasn’t any indication it would be one of his most difficult until spring.
While the rest of the world was on lockdown, post offices throughout the country were busier than ever as online shopping proliferated.
“It was almost like it was Christmas in May,” Martin said.
The office was occasionally short-handed and had to deal with unexpected surges at odd times during the year. Perhaps the fact that Martin and his staff managed to continue delivering to all six of their routes is attributable to the way Martin views his work.
“It’s not necessarily the job, but it’s, maybe, the attitude towards the job,” Martin said. “That makes the real difference in anybody.”
When asked what he is most proud of about his career, Martin pointed to those who have worked with him in the past who have since been promoted, who no doubt benefited from the knowledge he gleaned from numerous mentors.
One example is the Altavista Post Office’s current OIC, Ben Campbell, who used to work as a clerk for Martin.
Martin speaks fondly of his career, but at 62 was simply ready to move on.
“I think this is what God had planned for me,” Martin said about his career. ”And if I helped somebody along the way, that’s good.”
Now that he’s retired, Martin said he plans to do a lot more fishing and fiddling, and that he has plenty of projects around the house to keep him busy.
“So far I have not run into any negatives with retirement,” he said with a laugh.