Leola “Lee” Meyer’s FedEx truck sits in the parking lot just north of the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill. Both Meyer and the truck are regulars at the restaurant, because it is a convenient lunch-break spot on her route, which, for the past 25 years has taken her from Bird Key to Lido Key and St. Armands Circle and along the southern end of Longboat Key, ending at Putter Lane in Country Club Shores.
Passersby recognize her because they have seen her delivering packages around town.
“This,” says a man walking by, “is a very reliable lady.”
Even on her lunch break, Meyer is on duty. A woman pulls up next to her truck and asks if she has missed the pickup time to send a package through the nearby UPS box. With a smile, Meyer tells her that she isn’t too late and helps her with directions.
“Of course, I would rather you send that FedEx,” she says.
Meyer will retire at the end of January after more than 30 years as a driver and 25 years on the same route.
Meyer grew up operating large vehicles on a farm in Burwell, Neb.
“My dad put me in a pickup truck when I was 9 years old and said, ‘Don’t take out a fence,’” she says.
She jokes that after college she became a mail-order bride. Her boyfriend sent her an engagement ring in the mail, although he never proposed. She joined him in Florida, the couple married, and they operated a Shell station in Bradenton together. At the gas station, Meyer’s now ex-husband often serviced FedEx trucks, while Meyer washed and fueled them. Eventually, FedEx offered him a job, which he declined because he had the station to run. But he suggested Meyer, who accepted the position, and Oct. 1, 1980, Meyer became the first female FedEx driver in the Sarasota-Manatee area.
Over the years, Meyer has become a total package to her customers.
“You see her coming and you automatically smile,” said Dianne Waters, sales representative at McCarver & Moser, on St. Armands Circle.
Waters said that one night, she had a package that she had scheduled for pickup late in the evening, and Meyer had already crossed the Ringling Bridge. But Meyer turned around and went back to the Circle to pick up the parcel.
Barbara LaMotte, manager of Fresh Produce on St. Armands Circle, said some delivery drivers leave packages behind the store, but not Meyer. She brings the packages inside and stacks them, a courtesy that makes a big difference in a 1,600-square-foot space. But LaMotte said that Meyer’s personality is what stands out the most. When LaMotte was going through a difficult time, Meyer offered her a place to live.
“You never forget when someone offers you something like that,” she said.
Meyer’s relationships with customers have grown into friendships through years. She has also befriended many pets on the island with her secret weapon: the dog biscuits that she always keeps in her pocket.
But Meyer insists that her customers have been the total package to her, as well. There was a man who lived at the Sanctuary whom Meyer referred to as her personal rabbi. He gave her advice that she still takes to heart years after he died: “Enjoy life. Smell the roses.”
She follows his advice sometimes when she isn’t in a rush. When she delivers a package to a home with a garden, she often takes a moment to literally smell the roses.
In retirement, Meyer will put her people and pet skills to use by starting a home- and pet-sitting business.
She hopes to continue to work primarily on the island, with the people she has come to know and love.
“I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat,” she says of her career.
170 — The record number of packages that Meyer has delivered in a single day
85 to 100 — The average number of stops that Meyer averages during a single day
30 — The number of years that Meyer has spent as a FedEx driver
25 — The number of years Meyer has spent on her current route
3.5 to 5.5 — The average number of miles that Meyer walks in a day on the job
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]