Mail Manager Hunt Honored as Best in Government
By Rich McManus
There is plenty of justification in the 5 pages of single-spaced typewritten information that comprises the nomination of John R. Hunt, Jr., as Best Mail Manager of the Year, but two things make the honor seem most deserved: first, it was done behind his back he had no idea that anyone was pitching him for an award (but he was curious about why all of the framed certificates that line his office wall kept temporarily disappearing); and second, while anthrax in the mail and the need to X-ray and detoxify mail arrived with all the other bad news of fall 2001, Hunt and his colleagues reacted not with anger or despair, but with rededication to the job of getting everyone at NIH their mail.
To meet Hunt is to wonder whether patriotic Americans should add, to their collection of FDNY and NYPD ballcaps, a cap whose initials honor mail carriers, a group of workers that has gone largely unheralded since the days of "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night..." the unofficial postal motto, adopted from Herodotus, that first appeared in 1914 atop the New York City General Post Office.
"They did a lot of legwork behind my back," Hunt said of his coworkers at the North Stonestreet mail facility, where he is chief of the Mail and Courier Services Branch, Division of Support Services, ORS. "I had no clue that I had been nominated. They took the certificates off my wall, and they must have called my wife, too. I didn't know they were capable of doing such a sneaky thing."
Hunt had a long career in the military before joining NIH in 1993 for what is really his third career. He was born in Roxboro, N.C., and graduated from high school there. Two years later, in 1963, he joined the Army infantry, then moved to the adjutant general career field, specializing first in personnel then in mail services. As the Army bounced him around from post to post, he picked up an associate's degree at El Paso Community College in Texas, but is still 20 hours short of a bachelor's degree. "I spent so much time moving that I never finished [college]. One of the things I want to do is complete my degree," he said.
Hunt eventually rose to the rank of command sergeant major before retiring from the Army in October 1989. But his next job was a civilian posting to an Army base in Heidelberg, Germany, where he helped establish procedures to provide mail support to troops deployed to Operation Desert Shield/Storm. In May 1993, he joined NIH as mail operations manager, and rose to his current position in August 1994.
Today he is in charge of 25 federal employees and 38 contractors, and oversees not just the North Stonestreet facility, but also satellite offices in Bldgs. 1, 10, 31, 45, Rockledge and the Neuroscience Research Center in Rockville. He manages an operating budget of $4 million and an NIH postal account budget of $4.5 million. Twenty-two thousand workers in some 113 buildings, leased facilities and trailers (totaling 1,100 mail stops) get their mail from Hunt's team twice a day.
According to his nomination, Hunt "has made extensive and resourceful improvements to the mail service and operations that have had a significant and positive impact on the NIH community...His acknowledged management acumen, resourcefulness and foresight, and unique interpersonal skills have resulted in immeasurably enhanced mail services to NIH." On his watch, new mail tracking systems, improved customer service, a new accounting system and cheaper delivery of parcels has been achieved, not to mention purchase of two Heimann Hi-Scan X-ray Inspection Systems, to screen incoming mail and packages.
"After 9/11 and the anthrax situation, it kind of reenergizes you to dig down and be all you can be," he said, acknowledging that the terrorist events have resulted in far more work for his group. The NIH mail workers "absolutely" feel more appreciated these days, he noted. "My people were really more concerned about the safety of others, who were receiving the mail, than they were about themselves," he observed.
Hunt received a certificate of excellence "for outstanding achievement in the mailing industry" and a small statue on June 26 as the General Services Administration's "Federal Mail Manager of the Year," but that was not his only recent honor. At MAILCOM, a meeting of all East Coast mail managers from both the private and public sectors, held this year in Atlantic City, two Hunt products the NIH Mail Security Process/Procedures, and the Mail Services Guide were cited as examples of "best practices."
Hunt, who now lives in Springfield, Va., and likes to golf down at Ft. Belvoir (a perk of his military retirement he has a 16 handicap), expects to lead the NIH mail service for another 3 or 4 years at least. "Right now, I'm still enjoying it," he said.
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