Katy Miller started working at the Lenoir City Post Office in
1978, a first-class stamp cost $13 cents, female postal clerks
were uncommon locally, and electronic automation and
computerization were still to come for the agency.
While the job paid
about three times what Miller was making at her job at a local
IGA grocery store, it was demanding in its requirements. It is
a hands-on job that calls for mental dexterity - an ability to
memorize names, numbers and routes - and to multitask, while
remaining cordial and friendly with customers.
Even in a small town like Lenoir City, the window clerk greeted
and served 200-300 customers on a typical day. In 30 years, that
has not changed; if anything, it has only intensified. "It's
always crazy here, and Mondays and Fridays can get really
crazy," says Miller, who is retiring this week, working her
final day at the post office window Friday.
The announcement of her retirement has caused quite a stir
around town, from residents who cannot imagine the window
without Miller's smiling face.
In the years since she started the window clerk job, she has met
thousands of people, and calls most of them her friends. A box
to allow customers to write short notes of thanks and well
wishing had collected about 200 as late as Monday.
Lenoir City Postmaster Jim Bishop says he is not at all
surprised at the response. "Through the years, I have gotten
many notes, probably at least 40, from customers commending
Katy. At the window you have all kinds of customers - stroke
victims, handicapped, hard of hearing, illiterate, people who
don't speak English. I've watched her fill out money orders for
people and advise them. She has got a knack; there is very
little she doesn't know. She takes time to help people. A lot of
people would come in most every day."
Bishop said he served as Service Czar in Tennessee for post
offices. "I visited every post office in Tennessee, and I can
honestly say of all the window clerks I observed, she was head
and shoulders above any person. She is unique." Bishop says
Miller possesses an "amazing" memory, and called virtually all
her customers by name after meeting them.
Miller says she developed and refined an ability to remember
names by making a game of memorization. She played the game with
her sons, Matthew and Bradley, encouraging them to remember
names of waitresses in restaurants. Memorization skills were
vital when Miller was hired by postmaster George Bowman and
trained by Lloyd Powers, and those skills remain vital today,
Miller says. Because she was the first woman hired as postal
clerk in many years, she was determined to learn the job
thoroughly, perform tasks well and excel.
At a time when "going postal" became a term coined to mean loss
of temper or a disgruntled attitude, Miller managed to keep
positive, her face reflecting the antithesis of any negative
She made such an impact in her position that she was solicited
to train window clerks herself. She has trained hundreds, both
locally, in Lenoir City, and in Knoxville. "You've got to like
this window, or you are not going to do a good job. I like
people, so I do like it," she says. "These people are my family.
They tell me their problems and I am a good listener. I try to
be comforting, and I have tried to be friendly, personable and
professional. It is so busy. My main concern is I want all of my
customers to feel like the most important people I had to deal
with that day. The person in front of me is going to get my
That philosophy, of service with a smile, was something Miller
says she learned early in life from parents, Delsa Simpson of
Loudon and the late Clifford Simpson. "My dad was a contractor,
and although he never made a lot of money, his customers were
always satisfied," Miller says. "And my mother is phenomenal. A
lot of people will say to me they have never met a nicer person
than me - I tell them, then they have never met my mother..."
The Simpsons instilled a strong work ethic in all of their
children. Miller says each has displayed "workaholic" tendencies
in respective professions, and an attitude of service.
Miller concedes it can be challenging to give personalized
service to each customer, yet keep the line moving in a timely
manner, but it is possible, with patience, to do so. Success at
the job requires leaving personal problems at home, and leaving
work problems at work, she says. "You can't feel sorry for
yourself. You have to deal with your problems. My problems stay
at the back door when I walk inside. For eight hours, I drop
them all ... as I come in the door and drop this on the way
She looks forward to spending some time pursuing hobbies of
sewing, quilting and reading, and caring for her grandchild.
"It has been my pleasure doing this 30 years," she says. "I want
to relax a couple of years, then probably I will get back in the
work force. "
Post office co-workers will give Miller a retirement party the
first week in November, and wish her well. But, through Friday,
she will continue as she has for three decades. She just hopes
the smile will not be too tearful. "Will I cry? I don't know. I
have mixed feelings... I am tickled I can retire, and while I do
worry about the post office, the girls are good and I am
comfortable they can do a good job ..."