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Retiring with a record for service: Cheryl Brown is the longest serving Heights postmaster

Cheryl Brown was standing outside her house on Mark Street one morning in 1993. She was at a point in her life where she was ready for the next chapter.

Her future arrived in the form of Estelle Simes, postmaster of the Center Post Office, who was walking by and stopped to chat. (The top official of a Post Office, whether a man or a woman, is designated as the postmaster.)

Ms. Simes mentioned that there was a position open and urged Ms. Brown to apply. She asked a friend who had worked at the office and was told it was a good job with good people.

“Sign me up, I said,” Ms. Brown told the Reporter recently.

That began an historic career in the Island’s postal service. Ms. Brown, a United States Postal Service (USPS) employee since 1993, is retiring on Wednesday, Sept. 30, after 27 years, 21 as Heights postmaster.

She took charge in the Heights in 1999. Originally established by the federal government in 1880 and called the Prospect Grove P.O., no person has served longer in the top job there, a testament to Ms. Brown’s work ethic, ability to serve the public promptly and efficiently, and the confidence of her superiors on the district level of the postal service.

Frank Calabrese, the district manager for Long Island, described her as a woman who has provided “superior service and dedication to the Shelter Island community … Cheryl has been an instrumental part of the USPS team on Long Island, always committed to providing our customers with superior service. Cheryl has not only done an outstanding job as postmaster of Shelter Island Heights, she is a big part of the local community. She will be truly missed.”

What Ms. Brown will miss, she said, “Are all the customers. I would never have met three-quarters of the people I know, if it hadn’t been for the Post Office.”

The only thing she won’t miss, she said, is opening the day after a holiday. “Busy,” she said, with a tone of amused understatement.

Mary Payne, the postmaster of the Center P.O. was eager to wish Ms. Brown well, noting that “Cheryl is one of those exceptional people you don’t encounter that many times in your life.  We’ve been good friends and worked together for more than 29 years. Her work ethic is exemplary, and as we all know, she goes out of her way to help everyone. For us, it’s almost been like a partnership, helping each other whenever needed.” 

Ms. Payne said she and both Post Office’s staffs will miss her professional guidance and understanding “as will the entire Shelter Island community. Luckily, Cheryl will always be my friend and I look forward to celebrating with her as new opportunities present. Cheryl has my best wishes and she deserves yours, too.”

Even though it was difficult at times, Ms. Brown said, serving the public was a clear-cut reward and a benefit she enjoyed every day. “Sometimes it was hard, but I’d ask all the questions necessary to serve the customer and be sure I was doing the right thing by them,” Ms. Brown said. “I never forgot that I was there to help people.”

When she started her service in the USPS in the early 1990s, she began by “working the ranks,” Ms. Brown said, taking every job in a post office. “Estelle groomed and encouraged me to become a postmaster,” she added.

She worked in the Center, and filled in at posts on the North and South forks. The only training she received was “on the job.” She remembers with pleasure a laid-back office in Sagoponack where ”there was an adjoining door that led into a deli.”

In 1997 when Ms. Simes was postmaster in the Center, Ms. Brown was appointed officer-in-charge, and then took the top job in the Heights two years later.

Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy co-owner and pharmacist Suzanne Fujita, who works just up the block from the P.O., has known Ms. Brown since they were high school girls in Southold. “She’s one of those people who don’t change one bit,” Ms. Fujita said. She spoke of her friend’s sense of humor and gift for friendship. Her love of dogs is such “that she went to a friend’s baby shower and came home with one,” Ms. Fujita said. “At her job, and as a person, Cheryl is the best.”

Heather Reylek, who served as postmaster in the Heights and Center offices, described Ms. Brown as “a fine example of public service by a woman in a difficult and changing Postal Service. She’s followed in the footsteps of Isabel G. Duvall, Shelter Island Heights postmaster, appointed in 1915, the Island’s first woman in that position.”

Asked what she’ll do in retirement, Ms. Brown said: “ll stay busy spending more time with family and friends. Read all the books I’ve collected. Do a bit of traveling with Eddie,” her husband, former Town Councilman Ed Brown and now a real estate professional on the Island.

“Oh,” she added, “and get back into my walking routine. Now I’ll have no excuses.”

One of the many patrons of the Heights P.O. who will miss her is Ed Ludemann, who said he most of all admired her dedication. “You could always count on her if you needed help,” Mr. Ludemann said. “There was never any, ‘Hey, I’m too busy,’ or anything like that.”

She was also always on duty, Mr. Ludemann added. “No matter if she was in Florida, or here, she was always very client-focused. Cheryl never passed the buck. And she ran that Post Office like a clock.”