NEW CANAAN — In his long career with the U.S. Postal Service, District Manager David Guiney has given out four retirement pins for 50 years on the job – one to an employee in Miami, one in Fort Lauderdale, one in Pittsburgh, and one in Boston.
But he had no pin for the retirement ceremony he attended Thursday at the Camp Avenue post office in Stamford.
So Guiney handed 86-year-old Tony Spadaccini – a mail carrier in New Canaan for 65 years – a plaque instead.
“I have never heard of someone doing 65 years,” Guiney said. “It gives me the chills.”
James Henry, vice president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, came up from Washington, D.C., for Spadaccini’s ceremony.
“Tony has been on his route for so long that he has customers he saw grow up and have grandchildren,” Henry said. “He took part in The Great Postal Strike of 1970, which gave us the right to a working wage. I am here to give him the honor he is due.”
Spadaccini – almost literally – “came to work every day,” said Jeff Salamon, a regional manager of post office operations whose first job was working side by side with Spadaccini.
“Tony is retiring with 6,000 hours of sick time – that’s three years – that he leaves behind with the post office,” Salamon said. “He pretty much never used a sick day. He has integrity. And an unbelievable work ethic.”
Gregory Holotko, the Camp Avenue station manager, described what it is for the post office and Spadaccini to part ways.
“It’s like taking Lou Gehrig out of the Yankees lineup,” Holotko said.
Spadaccini was born in New Canaan, graduated New Canaan High School, got a job at the then-New Canaan Post Office, did a stint in the U.S. Army, then returned to his job at his hometown post office.
The New Canaan and Stamford post offices merged in 1999, when the Camp Avenue site opened.
Postal Service officials said Spadaccini has lived the agency’s history.
Henry said Spadaccini was on the job in March 1970, when 200,000 postal workers from coast to coast struck, causing President Richard Nixon to call out the National Guard to deliver the mail.
It was illegal for federal employees to strike, but low-paid postal workers became angry after Congress failed to act on a bill that would give them a 5.4 percent pay raise.
Congress had been debating a pay raise for years, but it never went anywhere. The strike began with New York City letter carriers.
“Tony was out on his route and some guys came up from New York and said, ‘We’re on strike.’ Tony stopped delivering mail and joined the strike line,” Henry said. “The people who did that put themselves in peril – they could have gone to jail. And they could have lost their jobs, putting their families in peril.”
Post Office officials that day entered emergency negotiations with workers. They reached a preliminary agreement the following day and the letter carriers returned to work. In the end they got raises and won the right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and better working conditions, Henry said.
Today the Postal Service is one of the last places where people “can make a living wage without a college requirement or an experience requirement,” Henry said. “We should not take it for granted. Tony’s generation made it happen.”
The unassuming Spadaccini said he just liked the job.
“I enjoyed being out there with the customers,” said Spadaccini, a man of few words.
That is the best part, said Bruce Koehler, who was a letter carrier for 35 years.
“I don’t miss being out there in the summer, when the temperature in the truck hit 100 degrees with no air conditioning, but I do miss my customers,” Koehler said. “One of them found out I was retiring and told some of the others, and the day I left I was on my route and I saw all these signs on the lawns that said ‘Happy retirement, Bruce.’ That really got to me.”
Koehler said Spadaccini saw tremendous changes in 65 years, including automated letter sorting and a huge increase in the number of packages.
“We used to have the little Jeeps but they aren’t big enough for all the packages now,” Koehler said. “Tony had to adapt to new trucks and all kinds of things.”
Former Stamford Postmaster Mark Dolan said Spadaccini took pride in his work.
“He was always on time, dressed properly, polite. You didn’t hear him say he couldn’t deliver a package because it was too big,” Dolan said. “He never complained, and there were plenty who would.”
“I think that’s what made Tony last so long,” said retired postal clerk Camille Smuniewski. “He didn’t let things bother him.”
Michael Ely, president of the postal union’s Branch 60, said Spadaccini’s “intestinal fortitude” is remarkable.
“I’m not even 65 years old, never mind working 65 years,” Ely said. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Lisa Dixon was Spadaccini’s supervisor for nine years.
“He’s a little on the quiet side, with a beautiful personality,” Dixon said. “He got along with everyone.”
Delphine Roberts-Armistead, another supervisor, said Spadaccini is solid.
“You have to have a strong mind, and determination, to do what he’s done,” Roberts-Armistead said. “I liked how he always had something good to say to encourage you, like, ‘You can do it.’”
The man himself took it all in stride Thursday, leaving his breakfast retirement party a bit early to head to his station and prepare to go out on his route. Friday is his last day.
At some point in the last few months his future became clear, Spadaccini said.
“I thought, ‘I’ll be 87 in September. How much longer can I go?’” he said.