March is Women’s History Month, and here in Greenwich, the two Postmasters, both women, shared their stories and talked about opportunities for women in the Postal Service. Lisa Dixon is the Postmaster in Old Greenwich and Janviele Coleman is the newly appointed Postmaster of Greenwich.
On Wednesday they were joined by Amy Gibbs, Strategic Communications Specialist for Connecticut, at the Valley Drive facility to reflect on the opportunities for women in the Postal Service.
All three women started their careers as letter carriers.
Ms Coleman and Ms Dixon said that earlier in their careers most Postmasters were men, but today, across the country about half of Postmasters are women.
“In around 2004-2005, it started to change,” Dixon said. “Before that, it was mostly men.”
Dixon and Coleman say some people refer to them as Postmistresses, but both men and women who hold the position share the title of Postmaster.
Ms Coleman said she had role models in Connecticut, but was also inspired by Megan Brennan, who in 2015 became the first woman to hold the office of Postmaster General of the US.
Brennan was the 74th Postmaster General, and, like Coleman Dixon, and Gibbs, she started her career with the Postal Service as a letter carrier.
Ms Dixon, who has been a Postmaster for six years, started as a letter carrier in 1998. She carried mail in Stamford for nine years before seeking to advance her career. In fact, she said her favorite part of her career was the time she spent carrying mail.
“I enjoyed being outside, and I am a people person,” she said. “I enjoy meeting different people, and having conversations. I especially enjoyed interacting with the elderly.”
Dixon said she enjoyed the changing seasons, especially the spring and fall. “It felt like walking through the park,” she said.
Dixon’s inspiration to advance in the Postal Service came from her role model, Mark Dolan, who was a manager at the Barry Place station, now closed, back when she was a letter carrier. Dolan, who rose to Postmaster in Stamford, retired in 2010 after a 32-year career with the Postal Service.
“The way he interacted with his employees was phenomenal,” she said.
“And, instead of talking down to a person, and bringing down their experience and making them not want to work, I felt I could make a difference to help motivate them to want to do the job.”
Ms Coleman, who was promoted three months ago to Postmaster in Greenwich at 29 Valley Drive, started in 2015 in New Haven as a distribution clerk working, which she described as working in the background, sorting packages and traveling to various stations in that city: Yale, Whitneyville, Westville, East Haven and New Haven. From there she became a part-time flexible employee, or PTF in Bridgewater, which is south of New Milford.
“It was an hour away from my house, but that was one of the best offices I’ve worked. It’s a small town, but the customers are amazing,” she said. “My first year there I was pregnant with my youngest daughter and they treated me like I was their daughter.”
From there Coleman was assigned OIC details, which is short for Officer In Charge/Acting Postmaster. After that, she worked as a supervisor under Postmaster Dixon in Darien. Then, in 2019, she worked in the processing plant.
Dixon and Coleman said working for the Postal Service was never boring, despite what customers might guess while waiting in line.
“There’s so much going on,” Coleman said. “Clerks are tracking data, doing end-of-day reports, learning new programs and going to training.”
What exactly is the role of Postmaster?
“You oversee the mail, making sure it is getting delivered, making sure that customers are receiving prompt and courteous delivery every single day,” Dixon said. “We answer to customer complaints and we say, ‘The customer is always right.'”
The women explained that the job entailed overseeing carriers on the routes. In fact, they said the personnel aspects can be the bulk of the job, depending on how big the office is.
“As Postmaster, we make sure that whatever that customer is requesting, that we give them an answer to the best of our ability,” Dixon said, adding that for example, she had recently helped a customer whose mailbox had been repeatedly vandalized.
Coleman and Dixon joked that there were never enough hours in a day.
“Once the carriers hit the road, then you’re focusing on how to get them back at a good time with everyone working in a safe manner. We don’t want to overwork them, because sometimes they’re working 12-13 hours a day, and you try to figure out who can go save them and help them out.”
Coleman said that in Greenwich, the Postal Service also delivers for Amazon.
“We still get between 30 to 33 pallets a day of just Amazon,” she said. “We still have our own products – Priority and Express – but we also have UPS and DHL who are partners. They deliver their own packages, but we get their overflow, which was really tough in the pandemic when we had a lot of mail.”
And, they said, during the pandemic, Fed Ex and UPS were capping their capacities and sending the post office their overflow.
“It was Christmas time for a year,” Coleman said.
Recalling working together in Darien, Dixon said, “Janviele and I would be in there at 3:00am sorting packages. We had skids on the ground outside, skids inside. And that was before the pandemic!”
Dixon said she is in charge of 18 routes in Old Greenwich, which she said may sound like a lot, but by comparison, there are 100 routes each in Stamford and Danbury.
In Greenwich, Coleman is in charge of 47 routes – 43 “city routes” and four rural routes.
Dixon and Coleman joked that while many people think mail carriers are models of physical fitness, it’s not always true. In fact, all the steps are rough on the knees.
“It’s not as cardio as one would think,” Coleman added.
“You do get a lot of steps, but at the end of the day you feel like you haven’t raised your heart rate,” Gibbs said.
Ms Dixon, who has six adult children and 11 grand children, said she still had time for her hobbies, which are singing in a choir and cooking. “I sing praise and worship in a church in Black Rock,” she said.
Ms Coleman, who has two young children, said her favorite stamp was the Women Support War Effort stamp that came out in 1999. That stamp features a woman in a red bandana flexing her muscle and the words “We Can Do It!”
Ms Dixon’s favorite stamp features Maya Angelou. That stamp was unveiled in 2015 as a limited-edition stamp honoring the late poet. Angelou died in 2014. The stamp features her smiling and a quotation: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”