March is Women’s History Month, and here in Greenwich the two postmasters, both women, shared their stories and spoke about opportunities for women in the Postal Service. Lisa Dixon is postmaster at Old Greenwich and Janviele Coleman is the new postmaster for Greenwich.
They were joined on Wednesday by Amy Gibbs, strategic communications specialist for Connecticut, at the Valley Drive facility to brainstorm opportunities for women in the Postal Service.
The three women began their careers as letter carriers.
Ms. Coleman and Ms. Dixon said that at the start of their careers most postmasters were men, but today across the country about half of postmasters are women.
“Around 2004-2005 that started to change,” Dixon said. “Before, it was mostly men.”
Dixon and Coleman say some people call them postmistresses, but the men and women who hold the position share the title 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 post of United States postmaster general.
Brennan was the 74th Postmaster General, and like Coleman Dixon and Gibbs, she began her Postal Service career as a letter carrier.
Ms Dixon, a postmaster for six years, started as a letter carrier in 1998. She hauled mail in Stamford for nine years before looking to advance her career. In fact, she said her favorite part of her career was the time she spent hauling the mail.
“I loved being outdoors and I’m a people person,” she said. “I love meeting different people and having conversations. I especially enjoyed interacting with older people.
Dixon said she enjoys the changing seasons, especially spring and fall. “It was like walking in 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 now-closed Barry Place station during her time as a letter carrier. Dolan, who became postmaster at Stamford, retired in 2010 after a 32-year career in the Postal Service.
“The way he interacted with his employees was phenomenal,” she said.
“And, instead of talking to a person, sharing their experience and making them not want to work, I felt like 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, which she described as working backwards -plan, sorting packages and going to various stations in this city: Yale, Whitneyville, Westville, East Haven and New Haven. From there, she became a part-time flex worker, or PTF, in Bridgewater, south of New Milford.
“It was an hour from my house, but it was one of the best offices I’ve worked in. 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 the details of the OCI, 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 at 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 track data, write end-of-day reports, learn new programs, and undergo training.”
What exactly is the role of the postmaster?
“You oversee the mail, making sure it gets delivered, making sure customers get prompt, courteous delivery every day,” Dixon said. “We respond to customer complaints and say, ‘The customer is always right.'”
The women explained that the job involved supervising transporters on the roads. In fact, they said that the personnel aspects can make up the bulk of the work, depending on the size of the office.
“As postmaster, we make sure that whatever request this customer has, we get it answered to the best of our abilities,” Dixon said, adding that, for example, she 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, you focus on getting them back at the right time, with everyone working safely. We don’t want to overwork them, because sometimes they work 12 to 13 hours a day, and you try to find who can go save them and help them.
Coleman said that in Greenwich, the Postal Service also delivers for Amazon.
“We still receive between 30 and 33 pallets a day from Amazon alone,” she said. “We still have our own products – Priority and Express – but we also have UPS and DHL as partners. They deliver their own packages, but we receive their overflow, which was really difficult during the pandemic when we had a lot of mail.
And, they said, during the pandemic, Fed Ex and UPS were capping their capacity and mailing their overflow.
“It was Christmas time for a year,” Coleman said.
Recalling working together in Darien, Dixon said: “Janviele and I would be there at 3 a.m. sorting packages. We had skates on the ground outside, skates inside. And that was before the pandemic!
Dixon said she was in charge of 18 routes in Old Greenwich, which she said might seem like a lot, but in comparison there are 100 routes each in Stamford and Danbury.
In Greenwich, Coleman is in charge of 47 routes – 43 “urban routes” and four rural routes.
Dixon and Coleman joked that while many people think of postmen as fitness models, that’s not always true. In fact, all of the steps are tough on the knees.
“It’s not as cardio as you might think,” Coleman added.
“You take a lot of steps, but at the end of the day you feel like you haven’t gotten your heart rate up,” Gibbs said.
Ms Dixon, who has six adult children and 11 grandchildren, said she still has time for her hobbies, which are singing in a choir and cooking. “I sing praise and worship at 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 released in 1999. This stamp features a woman wearing a red bandana flexing her muscles and the words “We Can Do It!”
Mrs. Dixon’s favorite stamp features Maya Angelou. This stamp was unveiled in 2015 as a limited edition stamp honoring the late poet. Angelou died in 2014. The stamp shows her smiling and a quote: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. He sings because he has a song.”