Lee letter carrier makes last deliveries
This story has been modified to correct the maiden name of Charlie Fitzhugh's wife.
LEE — Charlie Fitzhugh would have loved to sing for his supper. Instead, he spent three decades tuning out Mother Nature to make his appointed rounds.
After a 33-year career with the U.S. Postal Service — nearly all in Lee — the Western Massachusetts native on Tuesday walked his final letter carrier route.
As Fitzhugh, 64, stuffed bills, checks, advertisements and the rare hand-written letter into mailboxes on Prospect Street, he found several cards waiting for him wishing him well on his retirement.
"I received a few more cards last week," he told an Eagle reporter accompanying him.
With a slim build and white hair, Fitzhugh was easily recognizable traversing the Lee streets, several with steep climbs.
"Walking helped me keep my weight down and it was good for my cardiovascular system," he said in an Eagle interview at his kitchen table.
What didn't do him any favors was the extreme weather, especially winter's fury. The most harrowing storm was the March blizzard of 1993.
"I finished my route that day and cut my break times just to get it done on time," he recalled.
Fitzhugh had his moments with summer weather, dodging danger during a thunderstorm.
"The closest I came to getting hit by lightning was a bolt out of the blue that hit a chimney three houses away," he said.
An adventurous day job at times, delivering mail wasn't on Fitzhugh's radar when he graduated college.
Growing up in the Springfield-area, Fitzhugh parlayed his piano skills and love of music into a degree in music theory at the University of New Hampshire.
Unable to land a steady job in his major, he decided to give the postal service a try.
"I had no other options," he said.
Fitzhugh found his way to Great Barrington and married then-Maryann Iwanicki, of Lee, in 1983. A year later, Fitzhugh began working in the Great Barrington Post Office. He briefly transferred to Lee, moved onto the village of Housatonic Post Office then back to Lee, finally landing a full-time letter carrier's position in 1988.
By then, the Fitzhughs had moved to Lee, where they would raise two daughters, Rebecca and Sara.
Since delivering mail was truly a day job, nights were left open to play piano for local school musicals and in other settings, as well as, compose his own music.
One of his favorite stops was the home of the Frank and Connie McCarthy home on Navin Heights.
"When I found out they had a piano I would play for them in their house and later when they were in a nursing home," he said.
McCarthy, a longtime Eagle reporter/editor, and his wife died within the last two years.
Occasionally, Fitzhugh would be the only visitor some of his postal customers would have all day. One elderly woman on Summer Street in particular welcomed her daily mail carrier, known for his witticisms and corny jokes.
"I would often take my coffee break sitting with her on the porch," he said.
Mounting health issues and his first and only serious dog bite a year ago, prompted Fitzhugh to hang up his mail bag.
He said in addition to home and business owners on his routes, he'll miss his co-workers, calling the last several years his most enjoyable. He also outlasted 20 Lee postmasters in the 29 years of walking a postal beat.
Upon retirement, Fitzhugh plans to spend more time tending to his Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants at his Mandalay Road home.
The piano man hopes to ramp up his musical gigs playing for schools, substitute more at church service, and generally play wherever he's wanted.
Have piano, Fitzhugh will travel.
"Actually, I do have a portable keyboard," he said with a smile.
Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.
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