09/26/10 — Newspaper carrier retires after 40 years on job

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Newspaper carrier retires after 40 years on job

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 26, 2010 1:50 AM

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News-Argus paper carrier Betty H. Kearney, 72, places a paper into the box while doing her route. She has gone through 12 cars and has driven more than 33,000 miles over the almost 41 years as a paper carrier.

Betty Kearney isn't just a newspaper carrier. To the people on her daily route, she is a friend, a smiling face, a warm hello -- and even a lifesaver.

The veteran News-Argus carrier is retiring at the end of this month after 41 years delivering the news.

But delivering her hometown newspaper has not been her only contribution to the community. Several years ago, she was driving her route, stuffing papers into boxes when she discovered one of her elderly customer's home on fire.

"He had set a pile of trash afire and then gone inside. The wind had blown the fire up under his house," Mrs. Kearney recalled.

Knowing that the man was feeble, Mrs. Kearney stopped her car and ran into his home.

"I got him out and told him to stay out while I went to get a fire truck," Mrs. Kearney said.

In those days, there were not any cell phones. But the fire department was only a short distance from the man's house. She drove to the fire department herself to set off the alarm, then beat the fire trucks back to the man's home, where she tried to put the fire out herself. 

"But I kept that man out and kept him from getting burned up," she said.

Another time, she saved two small children from possibly drowning. She pulled up on a country road just when the children began crossing a shaky plank over a deep ditch filled with water. A small boy was crawling across and the children looked like they were just about to tumble in.

"I stopped and frantically blowed the horn and jumped out and told the parents," Mrs. Kearney said. "The mother just about died. She didn't realize her children had gotten that far from the house."

Those are just two of the incidents that make her career as a newspaper carrier rewarding, she said. There have been many other times when Mrs. Kearney had the opportunity to lend a hand in other ways.

She recalls that when she was hired, the circulation manager at the time told her she'd be delivering not only the paper, but also eggs and chickens. She had no idea what he meant -- until a few years later.

"We had an ice storm one year and this elderly couple on my route, who lived some distance off the road, couldn't get out," Mrs. Kearney said. "The woman called me and said the country store would send her a dozen eggs if I'd put them in her paper box. I took them to her door."

A couple years later, the same little old lady called Mrs. Kearney to say that the store had some fresh chickens and asked could she pick one up and bring to her. When the bird arrived, the woman couldn't thank her enough.

The 72-year-old carrier remembers starting the newspaper route when her daughter was 4 years old. She wanted a job, but didn't want to put her daughter in daycare. Becoming a carrier was perfect.

"She'd go with me on my route," Mrs. Kearney said. "I'd stack the papers and she'd sit on them. I'd take toys and food and we'd party on the paper route."

Over the years, Mrs. Kearney has come to know her customers well. So when one of them passes away, it hits her hard.

"That's heartbreaking," she said. "The one that affected me the most was this elderly feller who'd come out and talk to me all the time. He was such a nice, caring man. He always wanted to know how I was and if my brother wasn't with me, he'd ask how he was."

Mrs. Kearney's brother, James Holland, or J.D. as he's known by the customers on the paper route, is the reason she's retiring. He's lived with his sister for the past 10 years, ever since their mother died. Lately he's been sickly and now is confined to oxygen.

"I'd have to have someone come in and take care of him," Mrs. Kearney said. "I'd be miserable at work with him at home."

Before Mrs. Kearney's husband died a few years ago, he, too, would help her on the paper route, frequently taking about half of them so she'd get finished quicker

She said he was a godsend when there was really bad weather, like ice, and he drove her on her route.

After he died, she had to do that herself. But she was always very cautious. Even so, there have been some close calls.

Like the time when a trailer came loose from a car and was headed straight for Mrs. Kearney's car. "I saw it coming and thought 'This is it,'" she said. "I was up against a paper box and couldn't move. Right as it got to my car, it turned and went into the ditch."

Another time one dark Sunday morning, a van pulled beside Mrs. Kearney and harassed her.

"I thought they were going to get me," she said. "I'd move up and they'd move up, too. But they never said anything.

"Then they got up ahead of me and stopped. So I quit delivering papers and drove as fast as I could. I went into a subdivision and when the road curved, I cut my lights off and didn't touch the brakes. They didn't see me and went right on by. I was so scared."

Mrs. Kearney said she also has come upon drug deals being made and reported them to the police.

"You just never know what's out there," she said, "crazy people."

But the kindness of her customers more than made up for all the bad times, she said. They have given her everything from collards to turnips to pinestraw. And there have been short visits and kind words from those on her  route.

Virginia Lewis said she and Mrs. Kearney have become good friends over the years. "She's real nice. I am very sorry to hear she's retiring."

Arlene Crumpler said she appreciates Mrs. Kearney having delivered her paper for the past 40 years in all kinds of weather. "She's just a good paper lady in my book. I'll miss her."

One customer who keeps her supplied with vegetables is Gerald Brown.

"She's dependable. Rain, sleet, snow or whatever, the paper gets delivered, just like the U.S. mail," he said. "We went to school together and still go to church together. I share my garden with her -- collards, potatoes, squash, you name it."

That kind of contact is what Mrs. Kearney said she will miss most.

She'll also miss the black lab that would come out every day to fetch the paper for his master. "I had to be fast and put it in his mouth," Mrs. Kearney said. "On pay day, he would bring the envelope in his mouth and I took it and gave him the paper while his owner sat on the porch watching."

Mrs. Kearney won't miss the dogs that have chased her, though, or the bird that flew into her car one time, did his business on her dash and then flew out. She won't miss the damage to her car from hitting a paper box, having the lid come down and take off the car's antenna, having wasps fly out of the box and into her car, getting a handful of cobweb from the box or getting flat tires from debris next to the paper box. And she definitely won't miss the times when she delivered the paper while sick, occasionally pulling her car over to throw up in between stuffing papers into the boxes.

Over the years, Mrs. Kearney has gone through 12 cars and has driven more than 33,000 miles.

She is looking forward to a vacation, something she's not done for the past 40 years. She said sll also be on time for church every Sunday once she's retired.

But her last day still will be a bittersweet one.

"I know I'm going to cry the whole route," Mrs. Kearney said. "I'll be closing a chapter of my life."