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Amherst post office employee retires, leaving legacy of personal service

  • Kent Libby, a window clerk at the Amherst Post Office on University Drive, says a personal approach to his job has been important to him.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Kent Libby, a window clerk at the Amherst Post Office on University Drive, says a personal approach to his job has been important to him.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kent Libby shakes hands with a customer Tuesday while working as a window clerk at the Amherst Post Office on University Avenue. He is retiring Thursday after working the window for 15 years.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Kent Libby shakes hands with a customer Tuesday while working as a window clerk at the Amherst Post Office on University Avenue. He is retiring Thursday after working the window for 15 years.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kent Libby waits on a customer Tuesday at the Amherst Post Office on University Drive. He is retiring Thursday after working as a window clerk there for 15 years.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Kent Libby waits on a customer Tuesday at the Amherst Post Office on University Drive. He is retiring Thursday after working as a window clerk there for 15 years.

    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kent Libby, a window clerk at the Amherst Post Office on University Drive, says a personal approach to his job has been important to him.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Kent Libby shakes hands with a customer Tuesday while working as a window clerk at the Amherst Post Office on University Avenue. He is retiring Thursday after working the window for 15 years.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Kent Libby waits on a customer Tuesday at the Amherst Post Office on University Drive. He is retiring Thursday after working as a window clerk there for 15 years.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

At the counter inside the University Drive post office, many customers expect to be greeted by a clerk who calls them by name, knows a little about their families and engages them in conversation.

That kind of personal service may be old fashioned and discouraged in a day when most people are in a hurry, but Kent Libby said it’s important to him.

“Everything has gotten less personal,” said Libby, who has worked for the U.S. Postal Service since 1986. “I don’t like that, but I know it has to be that way.”

Libby, 60, retires this week, one of an estimated 25,000 postal service employees nationwide who are taking an early retirement buyout package that is part of a strategy to make the agency financially solvent. The postal service saw $15.9 billion in losses last year.

Libby’s career as a federal worker began in 1977 in Hartford, Conn., when he started as a civilian employee in the U.S. Navy before transferring, in a similar capacity, to his home state of Maine. In 1986, he shifted careers to the post office, drawn by a better salary, and in March 1989 came to Amherst. He has been a full-time counter clerk since 1997.

“That’s when I got to know a lot of people in town. I got to know them and their families,” Libby said.

Libby, who lives in Palmer, has worked at the University Drive location since it opened in 1990, when he and several others moved from the center on North Pleasant Street. Libby said he has enjoyed his different responsibilities, saying there “is never a dull moment.”

Fellow clerk John Volpe said Libby has been a reliable employee, never calls in sick and even worked on an off day last Saturday, less than a week before his retirement.

“We’re going to miss Kent tremendously,” Volpe said.

Volpe compared Libby’s legacy to an athlete whose jersey is retired once he or she has left a team.

“Kent is irreplaceable,” Volpe said.

Libby’s respect for what the Postal Service represents is evident as he cites Benjamin Franklin, its founder and country’s first postmaster general, and he is clearly troubled by the financial challenges it faces.

“We all hate to see it go downhill,” Libby said. “We love the post office, we want it to continue, but a lot of factors are pulling it down.”

Wearing a dark blue vest with the post office’s full eagle logo (which hasn’t been used as the official agency logo since 1993) Libby expressed disappointment that the friendly “Hello, how are you?” greeting clerks were once taught to use is now discouraged.

The University Drive post office remains a busy site, with many college students from the nearby University of Massachusetts conducting business there. But Libby said the longtime customers are the ones he will miss.

“A lot of the families, the kids are adults who I used to know as kids,” Libby said. “That’s been a nice thing for me to experience.”

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