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Image: Morris Wilkinson
Marvin Owens / U.S. Postal Service
“I feel much better if I get up at the regular time and get dressed and go to work,” said Morris Wilkinson, 91, a mailman for the past 64 years. He also spent six years of his life serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 6/3/2011 7:51:46 AM ET 2011-06-03T11:51:46

Some people dread the days they have to spend at their jobs. They pine for vacation time, squirrel away personal days, dream of retirement.

Not Morris Wilkinson.

At age 91, Wilkinson remains in the habit of clocking in punctually for work. A mailman for the past 64 years, he’s known for being diligent about every aspect of his job. His shoes are always meticulously shined. His hair is always perfectly in place. He’s cordial and courteous, and he’s loath to shirk a single obligation. In fact, he refused to be interviewed for this story until he was off the clock because he had no interest in “wasting time.”

“I like to stay busy,” he explained. “I don’t like to sit around and be idle.”

Wilkinson — who has been a mailman in and around Birmingham, Ala., all these years — was recently honored for his decades of service to the federal government. Before he joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1947, he served in the Marines for six years and fought in the South Pacific during World War II. That brings his total years of service to 70 — a tally that resulted in an emotional ceremony for him where a number of employees couldn’t hold back tears.

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“He’s working on his eighth decade of service; it’s that kind of devotion to service that keeps somebody young,” said Joseph Breckenridge, a longtime spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service.

“A lot of people have taken encouragement from his example,” Breckenridge added. “You don’t have to do what’s expected and park your wheelchair on the front porch and sit in it. There are other possibilities.”

Swimming, dining with FDR
Wilkinson has overcome plenty of obstacles in recent years that might have prompted most mere mortals to stop working. He had to undergo knee-replacement surgery when he was 80. He also got hit by a car two years ago. In both instances, he bounced back and returned to his mail route as quickly as he could.

“I feel much better if I get up at the regular time and get dressed and go to work,” Wilkinson said. “It ain’t normal if I don’t. If I sat around at home and didn’t do anything, I would just gain weight and be miserable.”

Wilkinson’s supervisor — Tommy Morrison, the postal service’s branch manager for Center Point, Ala. — described the 91-year-old as a model employee.

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“He’s a good one,” Morrison said. “He’s always on time, and he never calls in sick. His shirts and pants are always pressed — no wrinkles — and his shoes are shined just like when he was in the Marines.”

Morrison noted that Wilkinson is a well-known presence in his community, and he genuinely cares about his customers.

“He goes out and makes sure his customers are taken care of,” Morrison said. “Sometimes after work he’ll stop by and check on them. He’s been on this same route more than 40 years, and he takes extra time to make sure they’re OK.”

Image: Morris Wilkinson
Marvin Owens / U.S. Postal Service
Even after undergoing knee-replacement surgery and getting hit by a car, Morris Wilkinson bounced back and returned to work.

As astounding as Wilkinson’s 64-year tenure with the U.S. Postal Service is, he’s not the longest-serving mailman in the country. That distinction belongs to Rudy Tempesta, a Chapel Hill, N.C., letter carrier who is in his mid-80s and has been doing his job for 65 years. Like Wilkinson, Tempesta served in World War II. When the war ended, both men sought — and were able to find — steady, dependable work, a notion that’s becoming increasingly unheard of in today’s economy.

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In Wilkinson’s case, military service afforded him close contact with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Before the United States became embroiled in World War II, Wilkinson was part of a group of Marines assigned to assist the U.S. Secret Service in protecting the president. When Roosevelt would travel from Washington, D.C., to his resort in Warm Springs, Ga. — a spot where FDR doggedly tried to combat his paralysis with hydrotherapy — Wilkinson would travel with him.

“He’d invite us to go swimming with him,” Wilkinson recalled. “His assistants would help him go through the motions of swimming. ... He would also come to the barracks or to the mess hall and eat with us quite a bit.”

During the war, Wilkinson went on to serve with the Marines on different islands in the South Pacific. After two grueling years there, he contracted malaria and got sent back to the States.

“Back then, we had to go by ship, and it would take a week or two weeks to cross the Pacific,” he recalled. “We didn’t get furloughs. They shipped you over there and said, ‘We’ll come back to get you when the war is over.’ I got sick, though. ... Malaria is a terrible disease.”

Military personnel with malaria typically were sent to cold climates to recuperate; Wilkinson got stationed at a naval base in Newport, R.I. Once he recovered and completed his military service, he made his way back to his home state of Alabama and joined the postal service. Not long after that, he proposed to his future wife, Nora. They’ve been married 61 years.

“We don’t plan to get a divorce now,” Wilkinson said, chuckling.

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Adapting to changes
Since Wilkinson joined the U.S. Postal Service, much more has changed than the price of stamps. Formerly devout postal customers now share and receive information in high-tech ways that would have been unthinkable back in the 1940s. Such shifts have been impacting the postal service, and mail volumes have been dropping significantly. This spring the agency announced that 7,500 administrative jobs would have to be cut.

These details were not lost on those who attended Wilkinson’s ceremony, and they may have contributed on some level to emotions felt there. On May 31 — one week after the ceremony — hundreds of postal-service employees left their positions or retired early and received buyouts. Breckenridge, the spokesman quoted earlier in this story, was one of them.

“This is the last interview I’m granting here,” Breckenridge said on his final day. “I’ve spent 35 years with the postal service. I might have stayed as long as Mr. Wilkinson, but my job didn’t last.”

Need a Coffey break? Friend TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter  or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Explainer: You get paid to do this stuff?

  • Man in on beach
    Getty Images

    Many of us work hard for our money, and let's face it: Much of the time, it's a big, fat slog. But not for everybody.

    In fact, some people get to make a living by taking care of paradise islands and testing water slides and playing video games and cycling through France. Here are 11 jobs that spell F-U-N, not G-R-I-N-D.

  • Water-slide tester

    Image: Shelly Rucinski and Sara Haines
    Durrell Dawson / NBC News
    Shelly Rucinski, in blue shirt, pictured on a scooter at the waterpark with TODAY correspondent Sara Haines.

    Shelly Rucinski knows she's the envy of almost every kid in the world — not to mention many adults who toil away in cubicles under bad lighting. Her job? Director of operations at Noah’s Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Translation of that "director of operations" job title? Chief water-slide tester.

    "I knew that I didn't want to sit behind a desk and this was a great opportunity for me not to have to do that," Rucinski told TODAY. "You get to swim and do a lot of things that I wouldn't get to do if I worked in another job. I mean there's downfalls, we work a lot of hours in the summertime. But I get to be outside and this is my office. ... Not bad, not a bad view."

  • Chocolate taster

    Image: Chocolatier Prepares For Valentine's Day
    Getty Images
    Remember that scene from "I Love Lucy" when Lucy and Ethel landed jobs on a chocolate assembly line and everything started moving too fast and they had to shove chocolate after chocolate into their mouths? While hysterical, that didn't look like too much fun — but actually tasting chocolate for a living can be divine.

    Sally McKinnon once told British newspaper The Independent that her job as a chocolate taster and product development manager for the grocery chain Tesco was "the best job in the world."

    "I get paid to taste chocolate every day," she said. "My desk is absolutely covered with chocolate — it's fantastic."

    The downside to the job? "The calories," McKinnon said. "You have to make a conscious effort to eat healthily for the rest of the time. ... You also have to get over your fear of the dentist, because you'll be making a lot of trips there for checkups."

    So how can a person break into this field and taste chocolates for a major chocolate company or for a retailer? "You need a food qualification or degree in nutrition or food science," McKinnon explained. "Get some experience in product development, from the retail side or the supplier side. There are so many opportunities available, I'd say people should go for it."

  • Caretaker of a paradise island

    Image: Ben Southall, right, and Sandy Oatley
    Torsten Blackwood  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Ben Southall, right, of Britain is congratulated by Hamilton Island owner Sandy Oatley, left, after being declared the winner of the "Best Job in the World" competition.
    Most people don't get paid to relax on exotic beaches. Or to blog, for that matter. But in the "you've got to be freaking kidding me" department, Ben Southall managed to score a $120,000, six-month gig as caretaker and unofficial ambassador of a tropical Australian island. The 34-year-old British man beat out nearly 35,000 applicants for the position, including 15 other finalists who had to snorkel, indulge in spa treatments and eat barbecue on the beach as part of the interview process.

    That's not to say that the job — which was designed to attract tourists to Australia's Great Barrier Reef — didn't have its drawbacks. During his final days in paradise in December 2009, Southall endured a jellyfish sting that could have been fatal. He survived the scary experience, but it did shake him up.

    "I thought I'd done particularly well at avoiding any contact with any of the dangerous critters that consider this part of the world their home," Southall wrote in his blog. "This was not what I'd wanted at all and had caught me little off guard to say the least — I'm supposed to be relaxing in my last few days on Hamilton Island."

    Related links:

    Tough day at the office for 'best job' winner

    British man begins Australian island dream job

  • Inventor of fried foods

    Image: Abel Gonzales Jr. cooking at fair
    Kevin Brown
    Abel Gonzales Jr. of Dallas has made headlines across the United States for the fried foods he's dreamed up for attendees of the annual State Fair of Texas. One year he made Texas Fried Cookie Dough. Another year he made a Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sandwich. On yet another occasion he invented Fried Coke.

    But in 2009, Gonzales concocted his boldest and most audacious invention of all: Deep-Fried Butter. To make it, he took 100 percent pure butter, whipped it until it was light and fluffy, froze it, surrounded it with dough and then dropped myriad butter-laden dough balls into the deep fryer.

    Why is Gonzales' job being included here? Because it's an American fairy tale of sorts: He now does so much business at the state fair that he only has to work three weeks out of the entire year. "Mainly I just take it easy the rest of the year and think of new things to fry," he toldAOSFU98AQEWTASKFDNA0ADGAG2#@$A.

    Related link: Hold onto your hearts! It's deep-fried butter

  • Cyclist in Paris

    Image: Arthur Poirier
    Jacques Brinon  /  AP file
    Google employee Arthur Poirier, on a camera-equiped tricycle, records images outside of Paris for Google's Street View Maps.
    Ah, Paris in summertime. There's nothing quite like it — especially when you're on a leisurely cycling trip. Just ask the two young cyclists Google hired to ride ultra-high-tech, three-wheeled bikes through the French capital in the summer of 2009.

    Their fancy tricycles were equipped with nine cameras, GPS, a computer and a generator so the cyclists could capture thousands of digital photos for GoogleMaps. Their targets: historical sites, gardens and other pedestrian-only areas of the City of Light.

    "The idea is to be able to offer 360-degree images of places that were inaccessible before," Google spokeswoman Anne-Gabrielle Dauba-Pantanacce told The Associated Press.

    So people really can get paid to cycle around Europe? You betcha!

  • Beer taster

    Image: Beer steins at Oktoberfest 2009
    Getty Images
    For all you true beer lovers out there, here's a pop quiz: Did you know these key details about professional beer tasting?

    —The ideal time of day for beer tasting for the pros is lunchtime, from about 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., before your taste buds — and you yourself — become too fatigued.

    —Unlike wine tasters, beer tasters actually have to swallow the beer they drink and rate the entire experience.

    —No crackers or snacks are allowed between professional tastings; that would affect the flavor of your next brew. Instead, use water to cleanse your palate.

    So, hey! If you're armed with information along these lines, and if you know how to tell hoppiness from maltiness in a cool nanosecond, then who knows? You just might have a future in beer tasting for a major brewing company, a microbrewery, a beer magazine or a pub that has lots of rotating taps. As Homer Simpson once said: "Ah, beer. The cause of, and the solution to, all of life's problems."

  • Video-game tester

    Image: Hand-held video game
    Getty Images
    Some people give video-game aficionados grief because they sit mesmerized in front of a screen for so many hours in a row. But you know what? They might be working.

    Yes, people who are passionate and knowledgeable about video games really can land jobs as video-game testers. Their challenge, should they choose to accept it, is to take on a quality-assurance role, playing an unreleased game over and over and over again. In this way, they'll be able to see whether they can "break" the game or identify any bugs in it before it ships out to the general public.

    All new video games need to be tested, whether they're PlayStation games, Xbox games, Nintendo games or PC/computer games. And plenty of websites out there point would-be game testers toward job openings. May the force be with you!

  • Medical marijuana reviewer

    Image: Medical marijuana
    Getty Images
    This job wouldn't appeal to everybody, of course — and it also wouldn’t be open to everybody — but if this is your thing, then, wow.

    With so many medical marijuana dispensaries popping up in states like California, Colorado and elsewhere, a new job niche is forming for reviewers who can critique the quality of these places and their products. New reefer-review websites are surfacing all the time, and the Denver newspaper Westword received an overwhelming response when it posted an ad for a medical marijuana critic. The Associated Press reported that one potential job candidate enthused, “Marijuana isn’t just important to me, it is my life.”

    The catch? Legitimate reviewers have to be able to buy their own weed legally for medical reasons. No fakers allowed!

    Related link: Dope gig! Paper hiring reefer reviewer

  • Tester of luxury beds

    Image: Roisin Madigan on bed with laptop
    Roisin Madigan
    OK, so this job didn't go on forever, but it sure sounded fun while it lasted. In August 2009, Roisin Madigan, a college student from Birmingham, England, got paid about $1,600 to spend a month trying out top-of-the-line beds and mattresses ranging in price from $8,000 to $43,500.

    The only catches? The 22-year-old had to participate in a detailed sleep survey for Simon Horn Ltd., the maker of the luxury beds. And she had to sleep during the day in a Simon Horn showroom.

    “The staff will be performing a series of tests for the sleep survey, such as temperature, light, noise, alcohol, caffeine and many more,” Madigan wrote on Facebook. “If you [are] out and about in Birmingham, come down to the Simon Horn Showroom and give me a wave through the window!”

  • Internet-savvy globe-trotter

    If you're the type who invariably ends up sitting in front of your laptop when you go on vacation, then a gig like this could be ideal for you.

    Thailand tourism officials — who, interestingly, were inspired by the Australian tourism officials who handed Ben Southall the keys to that tropical island — recently advertised for five couples who could blog, tweet and chat about their trips to the country's most popular beaches and cities. Applicants were expected to be "good storytellers" and seasoned users of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

    Image: Island paradise
    Getty Images
    The five winning couples would have all of their travel expenses covered, and the couple who did the most outstanding work online while in Thailand would win $10,000, a video camera and a BlackBerry.

    While this particular opportunity in Thailand is no longer open, similar offers do crop up. Why not do some sleuth work online and apply for one? Here's just one possibility that a quick Internet search turned up: If you'd love to do volunteer work in a foreign country but you can't afford to foot the bill all on your own, you could apply for a Travel for Good Change Ambassadors Grant through this site.

    Related link: Free trips to Thailand for the Internet savvy

  • TV corpse

    Image: Scene with corpse from "CSI: NY"
    So this job pays almost nothing, but it has these things going for it: It's bizarre; it's interesting; it would give you a funny story to tell your grandkids; and — big bonus — it involves just lying around.

    The advent of grisly crime shows on network television — such as "CSI" and its ilk — has given rise to the need for people who can lie very, very, very still. That's right: These shows need people to play corpses.

    On the one hand, the job sounds kind of easy. But on the other hand ... what if you're a corpse whose eyes are open? You can't blink, that's for sure. And what if you're a naked corpse? You might get pretty cold. But on the upside, you'd be given lunch on the set and pay ranging from about $125 to $200. Don't spend it all in one place!


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