Al Gibson, a Laurinburg native and graduate of I. Ellis Johnson High School, recently retired after four decades as a mail carrier on New York City’s Ninth Avenue.
Gibson was known to those on his postal route by two trademarks: a pith helmet donned in addition to his postal service uniform, and a clown horn adopted to signal the arrival of the mail to elderly residents in walk-up apartment buildings.
The New York Times recently featured Gibson in its pages.
“I loved everything about being a mailman, period, and dealing with the public,” he said. “I was a public man. After coming from the Air Force it was really a job; it didn’t matter about the area. I knew that the area was bad when I went there, but I went there under the influence that I was a mailman. They never messed with me.”
Gibson became a mail carrier after a stint as a cook in the Air Force.
“I went to Vietnam, came out of Vietnam and became a mailman,” Gibson said.
New York was the most appealing of the three choices of location given to Gibson as a new mail carrier. The prospect of fulfilling his childhood ambition of delivering mail in one of the city’s seedier locations did not faze him.
“Hell’s Kitchen was Hell’s Kitchen because of the roughness - gangs, the whole works,” said the 65-year-old Gibson.
In fact, dealing with people, no matter who, turned out to be one of Gibson’s natural affinities.
Never seeking a more desirable route delivering mail to the higher caliber of customers a few streets away, Gibson remained in Hell’s Kitchen and watched the area, now part of Times Square, grow up around him.
“Now it’s changed and the name is just because of the historical part of it,” said Gibson. “You go to Hell’s Kitchen, and everywhere the streets of Ninth Avenue are crowded with the people going to the theatre.”
He credits his father, Sanford Gibson, Sr. for instilling the sense of savoir faire and general affability that enabled him to navigate his route in the early days.
“I dealt with them in a Southern nice way: you be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you,” said Gibson. “It was all about personality - you’ve got to carry yourself right.”
Several of Gibson’s family members still live in Scotland County.
“I was surprised that the New York Times did a story on him,” said his sister Lucille Council of Laurinburg, “But he is very deserving. He has been pounding the concrete as a mailman for 45 years and is one of the sweetest, most unique people you would ever want to meet.”