Rural postie retires after 59-year career

Freeman Willetts is finishing up after almost 60 years of rural post runs. PHOTO: WYATT RYDER
Freeman Willetts is finishing up after almost 60 years of rural post runs. PHOTO: WYATT RYDER
When Freeman Willetts delivers your paper, he ensures it goes inside the letterbox.

It has been a point of pride for the Waitaki postman for almost 60 years, but at the end of the month he will be retiring ... for good this time.

Mr Willetts said he had been delivering rural mail around Waitaki since 1965.

It started with the K run, which went to Kurow and back, then moved to the D run, which started in Reservoir Rd and went out through Totara, Five Fork, Fuchsia Creek and more.

In 1969 he purchased his own mail run, which went from Otepopo to Hilderthorpe.

He would go out to Hampden each morning and his wife Daphne would head out to Waitaki Bridge in the afternoon.

"I used to come home at lunchtime and she would tell me to look after the kids so she could take off."

He did that run for 36 years, then retired in 2005.

About a year later he was asked to do relief work on the D run again. When the run changed owners that work became more regular.

He developed a hernia about six years ago and had to cut back his work, as he could not lift packages any more.

Nowadays, he still delivered the newspaper every second Saturday and helped sort the mail a couple times each week.

"I stop and put every paper in the letterbox, whereas the others throw them off."

It added about 20 minutes to the job, but liked to make sure it was done right.

Before delivering the newspaper, Mr Willetts helped make it.

He worked as a linotype machine operator, preparing the advertisements and articles for print in the Oamaru Mail.

The opportunity to work at the paper came just as Mr Willetts was recovering from polio and he used to cycle from Papakaio to Oamaru each morning for work.

"I think it was about 17K ... it was the best thing I ever did.

"When I got polio it stiffened me up all over, I couldn’t move."

He had to take three warm baths every day to alleviate the symptoms.

The cycling helped him recover and delivering the mail helped keep him fit going ahead.

The job was more physically demanding than people thought, as there was lots of carrying parcels and getting in and out of the car.

The dexterous work of driving and sorting the mail was a mental exercise as well, he said.

The main thing that kept him coming back was the love of the job.

"I enjoy getting in the truck and going away for a drive."

He also loved the postal system, but a lot had changed since 1965.

Fewer people were sending letters and buying newspapers, but there were a lot more parcels.

Around Christmastime he could deliver up to 4000 letters and cards each day. Now it was closer to 300 Christmas cards across the entire season.

It was sad, but a sign of the times, he said.

He still tried to get all of his correspondence through the mail and resisted online accounts as much as possible.

The current owners of his run have just sold it and he decided it was the ideal time to retire.

"I just felt now’s the right time to go.

"I will miss it."