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Shell-abrating friendship

Souvenirs reflect lifetime bond between carrier, customer

Smiling man, woman hold string of seashells
Rob Durbin and Christine Thom display the seashells that they’ve traded over the years.

Christine Thom was 5 years old when she met Rob Durbin, the rural carrier with whom she would forge a lifelong friendship.

It was 2005, and Thom looked forward each day to retrieving the newly delivered mail at her family’s Corvallis, OR, home. As soon as she spotted “Mailman Rob” approaching, she would run outside to greet him.

“We would chat mostly about the sheep roaming the pastures, the 4-H Club and about my siblings,” Thom recalled.

A few years later, when Durbin was diagnosed with leukemia, Thom sent him some seashells that she picked up while vacationing with her family in Costa Rica, along with a note: “Hope these shells cheer you up and get better soon.”

Durbin credits the gesture with providing him with some of the encouragement he needed to beat cancer.

“I had a 10 percent chance of living. It’s a miracle but all is good now,” Durbin said.

Eventually, his route changed and he didn’t see Thom or her family for years, although he stayed in touch with them through mail and text messages.

Not long ago, when Durbin was invited to a high school graduation party for Thom, he was unable to attend but did send along a gift — the same seashells that she sent him when he was sick.

“I hope this gift gives you as much joy and happiness that it gave me,” he wrote in a note that accompanied the shells.

Like Durbin, Thom was appreciative when she received them.

“I was definitely touched,” she said. “It was an absolute miracle that Rob lived through what he did. The regift of shells meant a lot to me because I was surprised at how much they had blessed.”

Postmaster Jason Iwasa said Durbin’s friendship with Thom is emblematic of the service he delivers each day.

“He shows that this is not just a job, you can make a difference. It’s very fortunate that he still serves the public,” Iwasa said.

Thom, who has been working at a hospital in Corvallis, plans to start nursing school in the fall. Although she’s all grown up now, one thing hasn’t changed: She’s still a fan of USPS and Durbin.

“There’s always something to look forward to in the mail,” she said, adding, “Rob continues to bring joy to many people. I know many of our other neighbors have been touched by his life.”

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