LaFOLLETTE— As he drove his trusty Jeep Cherokee to the last address on Rural Route 1 last Friday, Siler McCarty was greeted by a smiling Jean Henson and her dog, Sparky.
It was the final delivery for McCarty, the oldest active mail carrier in Campbell County, who is retiring after 36 years at the LaFollette Post Office. The Henson home has been on McCarty’s route the past 10 years.
“He’s been a real good mailman,” said Jean Henson. “I think everybody up in this part would tell you that. I know my daughter thinks an awful lot of him. If I’m outside in the summertime mowing, he tells me, ‘Don’t get too hot or work too hard.’ I’ll miss him.”
With 650 stops covering 72 miles, McCarty had one of the longest rural routes in the county. He recalls only a couple of times when he wasn’t able to deliver mail, and those were during the blizzard of 1993 and an ice storm on Christmas Eve 1998. He was presented the Million Mile Award in 2008 for safe driving on his route.
“I have mixed feelings. It’s bittersweet,” said McCarty. “I’ll miss the people. I’ve just seen a small part of their lives…the birthdays, the weddings. It’s been extremely positive for me.”
Delivering mail was actually a second career for McCarty, who was named Tennessee Rural Letter Carrier of the Year in 1997. Prior to his appointment with the U.S. Postal Service, he worked 13 years in law enforcement for both the LaFollette Police Department and Campbell County Sheriff’s Department.
And before that, he was a war hero. During military service in Vietnam, McCarty was awarded a medal after saving a fellow soldier from a burning vehicle.
McCarty said he left police work for a better paying job with holidays off and more of a regular workweek schedule.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve been able to keep a job locally. Most people here have to go out of town (to work).”
McCarty, who recently bought a boat, said he plans to spend his retirement fishing and also volunteering for favorite causes.
By late Friday afternoon, he was receiving well wishes on Facebook from friends far and wide.
“I saw Siler driving back toward LaFollette while on my way home this afternoon,” said Jo Anne McCloud Myers. “It was a bittersweet moment when I realized it would be a last time seeing his red Jeep with the flashing light and U.S. Mail sign. Thanks, Siler. We appreciate all of the great service you’ve provided us during the nine years we’ve lived on your route.”