For the first time in about 60 years this week, route 3 in Leicester postal district is without a carrier named Cole. For the first 30 some years, the route was run by James “Crom” Cole, who achieved the prestigious Million Mile Award. The Million Mile Award is presented to a postal carrier who has driven a million miles without an accident.
James ended up retiring. Now, who should get route 3? Well, what is more fitting to this story but his son, Rex Cole, who started working for the Leicester Post Office when he was 18. Now, after 34 years of full-time work, Rex, 56, has retired as of last Friday (Oct. 29th). Rex followed in his dad’s footsteps in a lot of ways. A second-generation postal employee, he and his dad achieved the prestigious Million Mile Award. And both carried for the same route 3.
“We [he and his dad] got to work several years together,” said Rex, “and when he retired, I took over route 3. So there’s been a Cole on this route for about 60 years.”
Route 3 takes a carrier out South Turkey Creek, into Green Valley, parts of Bear Creek Road and Tipton Hill Road. Some mighty fine countryside for a carrier to see every day of work. The route contains 673 postal customers about a nine-hour trek. Asked what the prettiest part of the route is, Rex said, “South Turkey Creek and Green Valley. That’s the first part of the route and that some pretty country especially this time of year,” referring to the changing autumn leaves.
Leicester Postmaster Pete Maness says Rex is leaving mighty big shoes to fill. “He’s the lead of the group. He sets a prime example for everybody and these guys pay attention and ask him for advice. It’s a major loss for us. I can tell you that right now because of his wisdom and knowledge. I mean, it’s a big loss, but I’m happy as I can be for my buddy! He comes from a good bloodline because they’re not just good employees. They’re good people.”
Asked what kept him on the same job for so long, Rex said, “Stability and I enjoy the job and I work with a great crew. We do have good benefits and retirement, so I just stuck with it.” Asked what he would do in retirement, Rex confessed, “I hadn’t really decided yet. I’ll do a little construction work, golf a little, maybe do a little traveling.” Rex also looks forward to more trout fishing but is sure of one thing; he’s going to spend time with his grandkids, of which he has six. He says he wants to get into more contractor work anticipating that his pastor at Calvary Worship Center in Marshall might have a few projects for him too. “He’s already planning to put me to work.”
A 1983 graduate of Erwin High School, Rex married Jackie, a North Buncombe High School gal, and they’ve been together 37 and a half years. His grandfather lived up on Newfound, where Rex was also raised. He and his wife now live in Weaverville.
So who will get route 3? Good question. Postal carriers have a bidding system to apply for an opening, so Rex is unsure who will get the route. Whoever does, there’s not a Cole waiting in the wings to carry on the tradition so the tradition ends, but the mail goes on. Now, after 60 years of a Cole family dynasty delivering mail on route 3 the postal service might have to change their “unofficial” motto to “Neither rain nor snow nor retiring a Cole will stop us from our appointed rounds.”