TUMWATER - George Witherow will work one more four-hour shift today for the U.S. Postal Service and then, 50 years after he went to work for the federal government, he'll finally call it quits.
On Thursday, his co-workers, plus about 12 family members, threw a retirement party for him at the mail processing and distribution facility in Tumwater.
More than 50 people crowded into the facility’s break room to say goodbye to Witherow, who is 85. He was seated at the front of the room, balloons affixed to his chair and a stack of presents next to him. Co-workers, family members and friends shared their memories of Witherow for about an hour, then lined up to shake his hand or give him a farewell hug. His great-grandchildren helped him open gifts.
“I’d like to think we can always be friends,” Witherow said to his retirement party audience.
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Witherow’s first job for the postal service was “facing letters,” manually adjusting letters by hand so that they could be processed through a machine. His final job was working as a review clerk, he said. Witherow recalled that when he started, a stamp cost three or four cents and there were no ZIP codes. He worked an early shift, which started at 4:30 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m., and then he would head to his East Olympia home, where he worked in his garden and tended to his cows, pigs and chickens until sundown.
Duke Matthews, who has worked for the postal service for 13 years, called Witherow a strong person, someone who enjoyed his job and took it all in stride. “He liked what he did,” Matthews said, adding that the work was sometimes thankless and hard.
“I enjoyed talking to him,” Matthews said.
Taped on the walls of the break room for Witherow’s retirement party were a number of his favorite expressions, including “Too soon we get old, too late we get smart,” and “Top o’ the morning to you and a jolly old balance of the day.” The second expression was one of Joe Taylor’s favorites.
Taylor, too, works for the postal service and recalled the first time he met Witherow, who greeted him with the expression. Taylor said it sounded weird the first time, but then it became a regular exchange for them, something they said to each other every morning.
“My only regret is that I didn’t know George long enough,” Taylor said.
Witherow was born and raised in Pennsylvania and moved to the Olympia area to join his brother in the late 1950s, he said. By then, Witherow was in his early 30s and was looking for steady work after a period in which his past employers, both General Motors and General Electric, had laid him off. “I needed a job,” he said about his early days in Olympia.
After his pastor spotted an opening for him at the post office, Witherow got the job. He started in 1961, three days before his 35th birthday. His first few years were spent working at the federal building downtown, followed by a long stint at the main Olympia post office and then the distribution center in Tumwater.
On his list of things to do after retirement: taking a trip to Pennsylvania with his grandson.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 firstname.lastname@example.org