Local pride - Rudy Tempesta - "Rudy's a trip!"

At a time when partisans seem to be cherishing antagonisms and keeping wounds open, it's nice to have a reason to celebrate a town treasure in common.  

Rudy Tempesta, our 83-year-old letter-carrier on the Estes-West Coker Hills route (I think we're all the 2413 part of the zipcode), was honored yesterday for not one but two million miles without an accident over 63 years of service to the US Postal Service. 

That's remarkable enough, but as "Rudy's people" have come to learn, there's a lot more to him than putting catalogues and bills in our mailboxes.  At yesterday's ceremony amid the sorting stations at the Estes Dr. post office, Rudy showed off one of the five medals he got for flying missions in WW2, when he was part of the group covering the Tuskegee airmen, and he pointed out the other veterans he now works with.

 He talked about delivering the mail in a "Tin Lizzie" when he first started in 1946.  He said working for the post office was "really rough" at the beginning, and that the best thing that ever happened to the service was when they began to hire women. "Thank god for the women," he said, because things got a lot better after that.  And he pointed out the first woman carrier in the area for special recognition.

He talked touchingly about his favorite letter from one of the many kids on his route whom he's watched grow up.  At age 6, Julia Daugherty wrote him right after 9/11 saying she worried about him and all mail carriers' exposure to anthrax.  Rudy, who often goes out of his way for "my people," laminated the letter and gave it back to her this year for her birthday.  She was there yesterday to say thank you.  

Others (including yours truly) were there to pay tribute to him, although there was much more that didn't get said.  For my part, I didn't think I should tell the postmaster how great it is that I hear NPR blaring out of Rudy's truck when he comes up the street.  One daughter and one son (who runs the Chapel Hill North Blockbuster) were there, and Rudy's legendary pride in his family was glowing as he introduced them. However, it was a neighbor on his route who made the comment that a lot of us have made over the years about Rudy:  "Rudy's a trip!"

The broadcast media did a nice, if fleeting, job of reporting this event (and if you're very quick, you can look up the videos on websites for ABC11,  WRAL, or NC 14 under local news), but perhaps the funniest comment of the day was clearly not appropriate for broadcast.  Rudy - and many of us - had been under the impression that he's the oldest active letter-carrier in the country, but someone had had to inform him that no, there's another one older than Rudy.  Rudy's response?  "Well, he has to die sometime."

Meanwhile, it's great that Rudy -- parent, veteran, lettercarrier, friend, neighbor, conversationalist, and "trip" -- was back in his truck as soon as the TV vans left, bringing us our mail, a thank you, and a couple of more stories.



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