Managing mail where there’s no street addressesMeet Becky Brown, Block Island’s new postmaster
A South County native, Becky Brown always dreamed of living on an island.
So when she was looking for a change from her hectic post office job in Providence — about an hour commute from her home in Westerly — Block Island was her first choice.
Lucky for Brown, she’s getting to live her dream, as she has taken a full-time position at the Block Island Post Office as postmaster. She’s filling a role that has been vacant for about three years since the previous postmaster, Fred Leeder, retired. Brown, a friendly brunette, can be found at any given time sorting and boxing mail, working on paperwork or helping post office customers with any concerns they may have.
As postmaster, she’s now responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the post office, which include staff supervision, administering the operating budget and overseeing mail distribution.
When Leeder retired three years ago, several applicants to the job had wanted to commute to the island, explained Brown, but the position called for someone to live here year-round and as the Postal Service experienced downsizing, it chose to keep the position vacant until recently.
“To be a postmaster, you have to be part of the community that you are serving,” said Brown. “You have to be in the right place in life. My kids are grown and my house had been on the market. I’m ready to begin a new life.”
Brown applied for six positions; Block Island was her first choice and the first to accept her. She withdrew her other applications after she was accepted, she said.
After moving here in late January, Brown stayed on-island for a month, leaving only this past weekend to empty out her mainland house. “I was miserable when I left the island,” she said.
Brown described the many hobbies that keep her busy — reading, scrapbooking and swing dancing, to name a few. She’s happy to enjoy the peace and solitude of an island winter, and her little dog Pia likes it, too; she especially loves running around scaring the deer away, said Brown with a laugh.
“I’m really looking forward to the summer bands,” she said, adding that her “dance friends said ‘You really need to bring swing dancing to the island.’”
Other than that, there is not much that Brown would like to change about her new life, or her new job.
Although the island office has been lacking an official postmaster for the past few years, post office worker Cathy Millikin, who’s retiring, has been acting as “Officer in Charge,” so Brown said that the transition was pretty smooth. In addition, Brown gives glowing praise to her three part-time clerks, Joyce Gibran, Donna Smith and Charon Littlefield.
“If one of them were to leave, people would notice,” she said.
The switch to quiet Block Island from a bustling Providence mail hub is pretty much a 180-degree change for Brown. She went from supervising the largest delivery unit in the city, with three different zip codes and 88 workers who deliver mail, to a “level 18” post office that doesn’t even have official addresses or carrier mail services.
“It was a very, very busy and at times very stressful job,” she said.
She said one of the most common issues she’s helped customers with over the years is setting up mail forwarding, or having mail to one address re-routed to another address. She expects that she will be helping a lot of island customers with this. She also hopes to have the front lobby, where islanders can grab mail from their P.O. boxes, open earlier in the summer.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Block Island without a little adventure. Becky moved to the island on Jan. 21, the same day a winter blizzard struck, creating a slightly hectic start. “But I had lots of people helping me,” she said. “The truck that took me three days to load took an hour and a half to unload.”
“I’ve had company every single weekend,” she said. “Someone told me, ‘you know who your real friends are when they visit in the winter.’”
With an education degree from the University of Rhode Island, Becky never really thought she’d end up in the postal service.
“There were not many teaching jobs when I graduated,” she said. “I did a lot of waitressing and subbing.” It was not until the mid-1990s that Brown joined the USPS as an office clerk in West Kingston. She later transferred to Charlestown and was at the Providence job for the past seven years.
“I knew I wanted to move to the next step,” she said. And after years of dreaming of the island life, “I finally made it out here.”