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End of an era

Last Postmaster appointed by a president retires

Samuel J. Mitchell
At his Jan. 31 retirement party, Samuel J. Mitchell displays a plaque and certificate he received when President Lyndon Johnson appointed him Postmaster of Philo, OH.

Samuel J. Mitchell made history last week.

Mitchell — the last Postmaster appointed by a president — retired Jan. 31 after 52 years managing the Philo, OH, Post Office.

“The Post Office has been a good living and treated me well,” he said.

Mitchell became acting Postmaster in 1965 and was appointed Postmaster by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, when the organization was the cabinet-level Post Office Department. Four years later, the department became USPS, an independent agency. Political appointments legally ended when the Postal Reorganization Act was signed in 1970.

Mitchell said getting his appointment took having friends in high places.

“I was talking to my congressman and told him how I had always wanted to work for the Post Office,” he said. “He said I had to take the test and that he would bring my name up in Washington.”

Before long, Mitchell found himself running his hometown Post Office. He remained on the job until last week.

Philo, a village along the Muskingum River in southeastern Ohio, hasn’t changed much over the years. The population is around 700, slightly smaller than it was when Mitchell joined the Post Office.

But USPS itself? That’s changed a lot.

“Everything used to be done by hand, now there’s computers,” Mitchell said. “When I see the bulk mail centers and operations in Columbus now, I’m amazed at how quickly they do it.”

Mitchell, who served three years in the Air Force before beginning his postal career, is a beloved figure in Philo. He’s also been a member of the local volunteer fire department, a rescue scuba diver and an assistant scoutmaster.

In 2012, the town marked Samuel James Mitchell Day to honor his long career of public service.

After announcing his retirement, Mitchell heard from customers who didn’t want to see him go.

“No one wants me to quit. I was born and raised here. Everyone knows me,” he said on his last day.

Mitchell also heard from colleagues.

“Sam was truly proud of his position and very engaged with his team and customers,” said Kathleen Patrick-Marchi, Ohio Valley District’s Post Office operations manager.

Julie Pepper, Mitchell’s neighboring Postmaster in McConnelsville, OH, said Mitchell’s modesty stood out.

“He listened and quietly expected the best from people because he also gave his own best,” she said.

Mitchell, whose last official act as Postmaster was speaking to Link, was asked what he’d miss most about his job.

The answer came easily: His customers.

“I’m thinking about getting a rocking chair so I can sit in front of the Post Office and see everyone,” he said.

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