Every morning at 7:30, Arthur Ray sorts mail into small, vertical slots labeled with addresses. He doesn’t use a rubber band to keep all the mail together, because by now he knows the names of families at each address.
On July 25, Ray celebrated 50 years with the United States Postal Service with a cake, watch and 50-year pin. Then he hopped in his white truck with blue trim and delivered the mail.
“The Lord gave me a heart to serve and I guess this is the best service there is,” Ray said from inside the Myrtle Beach post office before delivering route 20.
Route 20 includes houses along Old Bryan Drive and Brookgreen Drive in Myrtle Beach, which boasts million-dollar lots on the Intercoastal Waterway. Local postal workers refer to this route as the retirement route, “because it’s all retired people,” Ray said.
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“Those are very expensive lots,” Ray said. “And very high-end homes.”
Andrey Denney, Myrtle Beach postmaster, doesn’t often see postal carriers with Ray’s dedication and reliability. He said very few carriers make it to the 50-year mark.
“A few more Arts would not be a bad thing,” Denney said.
Ray started his postal career in 1957 in Ohio, but took several years off to work as an auxiliary police officer, interstate truck driver and supervisor at Georgetown Hospital. Every time those jobs came to a close, Ray took it as a sign from above to return to U.S.P.S. All in all, he took off six years from the postal service.
“I guess the Lord wants me here, so after a while I thought I’d better stay,” Ray said.
He’s seen everything come through the mail in his 50 years of service – from car parts to a sailboat mast to puppies – but claims he’s never seen anything quite like the box of boa constrictors “somebody ordered as pets.”
“I don’t think you can send snakes through the mail anymore, but when you could, that was a real surprise.”
He knows every family on his route and makes friends with the dogs and the children, sometimes pausing to help find a lost pet or talk about the weather.
“That’s part of your job – you get to know the people, their kids and their animals,” Ray said.
Ray moved to South Carolina with his wife for health reasons – mostly to get away from the harsh Ohio winters – and stayed for the sunshine. The Carolina warmth is too enticing for Ray “to ever go back to Ohio.” Several of his 10 children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren still live in Ohio, with others spread out all over the United States.
“They all keep me busy,” Ray said.
Ray always stays busy, regardless of family, according to his supervisor Harold Haycraft. He usually works from 7:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m., rarely calls out sick and arrives early to the mailroom every day.
“He likes his job and he likes his customers,” Haycraft said. “He just likes walking, staying busy and keeping active.”
In 1957, the year Ray began his postal career in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, mail carriers made $4,326 per year, according to Harry Spratlin, district communications coordinator.
“He’s 75, but he works so hard,” Spratlin said. “He has a great attitude, and he’s not even senior carrier (for the city).”
U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe recognized Ray’s achievement with a letter, reminding the mail carrier that “few employees ever achieve this distinction.” Donahoe thanked Ray for his service in the letter, calling the 50-year celebration a “major career landmark.”
“A career spanning a half century is certainly indicative of your unique dedication and commitment to our organization’s success,” the letter said. “It is an accomplishment you should be proud of, and it deserves the admiration of your fellow employees and your community as well.”
After 50 years of service, the 75-year-old has thoughts of retirement – but they are just thoughts. If he were to hang up his blue uniform for good, Ray said he’d join his son – a musician and songwriter –and play music for churches.
“I’d probably be working harder in retirement than I am now,” Ray said. “Most of my family have been farmers, and farmers never quit.”
For now, Ray plans to work as long as possible, filled with a heart for public service.
“If you like people and you like to serve, this is the job for you.”