Whatever Job Alice Goulet Smith Did, 'She Did It Well' | Life Stories | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Whatever Job Alice Goulet Smith Did, 'She Did It Well' 

Published March 15, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

click to enlarge Alice Smith (then Alice Goulet) pumping gas at Goulet's Garage in Washington in 1956 - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Alice Smith (then Alice Goulet) pumping gas at Goulet's Garage in Washington in 1956

Alice Goulet found purpose in the small town of Washington, Vt. Her school, the post office and home were within walking distance of each other in the Orange County village where she grew up.

This made it convenient for her to stop at the post office and pick up the mail for some villagers — folks who entrusted her with the combinations to their post office boxes and wanted home delivery. She would deliver mail after school, earning 25 cents a week from each family and imagining her future: Alice wanted to be a postmaster.

As an adult, she married a Washington farm boy named Robert, aka "Bob," and became Alice Smith. She did indeed become a postal clerk, mail sorter, letter carrier and, ultimately, postmaster, a position she held in East Barre for 14 years.

"She was a real people person, which served her well in postal work," her daughter, Jackie Smith-Nielsen, said. "There were times she would joke that it was like being a bartender."

click to enlarge Alice Smith - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Alice Smith

A lifelong central Vermonter, Alice died at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin on February 13. She opted against life-saving measures after several months in and out of the hospital and rehab with multiple chronic conditions, her daughter said. She was 84.

"Her faith was such a big part of this [choice]," Jackie, 62, said. "She had cleared the deck with God, and she was ready."

Alice was one of two children of Eustache and Anna Goulet, who were immigrants from Québec. Her father ran Goulet's Garage, a gas station and mechanic shop on Route 110 in Washington. Alice attended the village school before going to Spaulding High School in Barre, from which she graduated in 1956. She and Robert (known as Bob) got together at the roller rink, where he literally picked her up after she fell. The couple were married for 61 years, until his death three years ago. The Smiths settled in East Montpelier, where they raised Jackie and her brother, Michael.

Following her childhood interest in postal service, Alice got a job as a part-time clerk at the East Montpelier post office. In the mid-1970s, she transferred to a position in Barre City, where she was a "part-time flex" — or flexible worker — who could fill in on any shift as needed.

In that role, Alice was the coworker of Linda Clark of East Calais. The work was heavy and hard, Clark said, but it was a good job with good benefits. As early women employees in a male-dominated post office, she and Alice had to prove themselves, Clark said. Though the work environment was generally welcoming and congenial, a few coworkers suggested the women "should be at home," Clark, 77, recalled.

Instead, they were up in darkness and leaving sleeping children to get to work by 4:30 in the morning. They unloaded trucks and sorted mail to ensure it was ready for delivery by 7 a.m., when the carriers started their shifts.

"I think of my mother and Linda as real groundbreakers," Jackie said. "[Alice] really had something she wanted to prove. She was powerful, with a purr."

Alice routinely filled in on delivering the mail, carrying bags that weighed 40 pounds and walking seven or eight miles on Barre's hilly streets. She sometimes worked a split shift, stopping at 9:30 a.m. before starting again in the afternoon. Between shifts, Alice and Clark occasionally went bowling. The coworkers roamed around and stopped for hamburgers at J.J. Newberry, a since-closed department store in Barre.

Clark acknowledged that she herself was initially concerned about Alice's ability to do the job. Alice was a petite woman who weighed barely 100 pounds. "I thought, Oh, boy, this is going to be rough," Clark said. "There wasn't much to her. But she dug right in and did a good job. Alice was the kind of person, whatever job she was doing, she did it well. She was very conscientious."

In 1984, Alice took the civil service exam to become a postmaster — the job she had wanted since childhood. Sorting and delivering mail was taking a toll on her body, Jackie said, and Alice wanted to move up in the ranks.

click to enlarge Alice Smith being sworn in as East Barre postmaster in 1984 - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Alice Smith being sworn in as East Barre postmaster in 1984

She became postmaster in East Barre in 1984, a position she held until her retirement in 1998. In charge of the post office, Alice oversaw its change from a quiet place to a busy mail center. The transformation occurred early in her tenure, when a bulk mail business opened in East Barre.

"That suddenly made this small, sleepy country post office into a bustling place that had a lot of mail going through it," Jackie said. "She really had to specialize."

Alice also came to know community members, who respected her work ethic and customer service skills. "She was very people-focused and very service-oriented, which is kind of a lost art," Jackie said. "There was a lot of mutual love and respect in the interactions that she had with people."

Customers were patient and understanding with Alice, who had a rare voice disorder that affected her ability to project her voice and communicate, Jackie said. Alice's condition was undiagnosed for seven years; some doctors told her it was "in your head," according to Jackie. One of her customers, a police officer, had a similar ailment. He talked with Alice about the condition, which led her to a specialist at Columbia University in New York City, according to Jackie. He diagnosed spasmodic dysphonia; for Alice, it caused involuntary spasms that affected her vocal cords.

"Sometimes people didn't hear her well enough," Jackie said. "It took so much energy to explain things over and over again."

For her part, Alice was patient and understanding with Bob, who suffered bouts of depression. Outside of work, she was active with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Vermont, a nonprofit that offers services and support for people with mental illness. Alice and her husband attended meetings, Jackie said, and Alice edited NAMI's newsletter.

"My mother, on top of everything else, was [my father's] caregiver," Jackie said.

At the post office, Alice had a special visitor every year on July 14: her son. Michael, now 59, went to his mother's workplace on his birthday to give her a dozen roses. When he gave her the flowers, Michael said to his mom: "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here," he recalled. "She was definitely touched by that."

In retirement, Alice gardened, traveled with Bob to all 251 towns in Vermont and organized exercise classes at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center. To get folks moving, Alice rewrote the words of well-known songs, crafting fun lyrics that inspired exercise. They included lines sung to the tune of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart": "More endorphins are released / When we laugh and sing / So have some fun and don't be shy / Don't worry 'bout a thing."

Though Alice's voice wasn't strong enough to sing the tunes, she joined in the exercises while other participants belted out her compositions.

"Now I understand why there are a number of women in the Montpelier area who have told me over the years, 'We love your mother!'" Jackie wrote in an email.

A mass of Christian burial in celebration of Alice's life will be held on Wednesday, March 22, 11 a.m., at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier. Alice would've turned 85 that day.

"Life Stories" is a series profiling Vermonters who have recently died. Know of someone we should write about? Email us at [email protected].

The original print version of this article was headlined "'Whatever Job She Was Doing, She Did It Well' | Alice Goulet Smith, March 22, 1938-February 13, 2023"

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About The Author

Sally Pollak

Sally Pollak

Sally Pollak is a staff writer at Seven Days. Her first newspaper job was compiling horse racing results at the Philadelphia Inquirer.


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