We lost a friend and a champion with the passing of Donnie Parks.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I met him. Nor can I remember a version of Don without the mustache and the glasses. His looks really didn’t change that much over the years, and there’s some comfort to that regularity about him. He was one of those guys who was just always there, whether processing mail beside you on the workroom floor or doing official union business in the APWU office. Donnie was one of those guys I really came to trust when having to go about filing grievances or handling conflicts that I’ve had to endure over my years as a postal worker.  And I’m not the only one.

It’s not polite to bite the hand that feeds you, but we’ve all been force-fed shit sandwiches during our time in the USPS. In the world of business, there are days when the USPS feels like the McDonalds of crappy employers; Home of the McShit Sandwich. And if it wasn’t the headaches from the management side of the job, you also have a working environment that feels like a thirty-year jaunt in high school. It gets old fast. It can wear you down as the years creep by. But Don Parks was always there, and he was one of the good guys. Don would actually sit and listen to you, no matter how bad you were bent out of shape. He cared, and he could calm you down and help you make sense out of the worst drama. And he usually could at least make you chuckle about your situation before he was done. Don Parks was one of us. The guy knew how our postal contract works and how the system works, and he was damn good at his job.

Here’s the thing my mind keeps coming back to tonight; when you’ve worked a job for decades with the same people, you reach an understanding about them. Sometimes it’s not even noticeable, but then one day you look at somebody and notice the gray hair and the wrinkles and the crows’ feet around the eyes, and it just hits you that you’ve spent all those years watching your coworkers growing old right along with you. You pass certain milestones, and they’re there in the background either cheering you on or picking you up when you’ve fallen down. Right up until the end, Don was enquiring about my daughters or how my writing career was going. I’d tell him that my older daughter was in junior high and my younger was learning to read, and more often than not I’d tell him, “I don’t know where the time goes.” And that’s the truth. Because life goes by way too fast, sometimes.

We used to go out to breakfast over the years, after punching off the clock in the morning. We’d meet up at Ruskie’s or Sully’s or a bunch of other joints that were willing to open up at six a.m. and feed us and serve us beers. Don usually would show up late, but he’d find his way in and join us for a couple of drinks. We’d always swear there was to be “no shop talk” once the work day was over, but we all know we’re full of shit and just looking for an ear to bitch about some nonsense or other that we had to deal with. It’s human nature. But Donnie was there to listen and to tell us what was going on behind the scenes that we might not have been aware of. And he was funny. Goddamn it, Don Parks was funny as hell. It’s my understanding that Don really didn’t have a family, and it always felt as if he looked to us to fill that vacuum for him. WE were his family, and I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit that I loved the guy, and that I’m going to miss his smile. It’s going to take time to get used to the Portland Processing and Distribution Center without bumping into him, and shooting the shit with him about the job, or the Patriots, or what’s going on in my life, because he really did care. He cared about us and fought like hell for us over the years. Don valued fairness and justice because these things are worth valuing. He was honest and had no problem telling you if your complaint was petty, and that’s something that I always admired and respected in him.

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to one of our Postal Family. We always hope and pray that our brothers and sisters are able to retire—hopefully still young and in good health–and to live out that “Happily Ever After” we all ought to be entitled to after decades of working the job and eating the shit sandwiches that come with it. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Don deserved to live out his “Happily Ever After”, and part of me is filled with despair now that he never will. But his memory will live on with us. I won’t be able to pass by the smoking area or walk through the halls without seeing Don’s mustache and glasses, and that cocky smile on his face. Don Parks was our brother and our champion, and he will not be forgotten.

Thank you, Donnie. For everything.