MONTPELIER — Steve Bailey has built a reputation as a man of the people. It has taken him years, and millions of steps along the way.
For more than 16 years, Bailey, 63, has delivered The Times Argus (and its various supplements) to businesses, organizations, city and state offices. While newspaper delivery today relies heavily on “motor routes,” Bailey has held the newspaper’s last coveted walking delivery route in Montpelier. This week, Bailey will be walking his route for the final time.
Steve Booth, distribution manager for The Times Argus, said Bailey did his job reliably.
“He’s been here for a long time, and since I’ve been his supervisor, he’s always walked his route, gets the bus from Barre to Montpelier every morning, and does a good job,” Booth said. “A lot of people in Montpelier know him and like him. He’s a good guy.”
This Friday, Bailey will be the toast of the town at a retirement party for him at Three Penny Taproom, from 3 to 5 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend and celebrate.
No matter the weather outside, Bailey has dutifully made his rounds, often chatting to customers throughout the morning, making the day brighter indoors.
Bailey, who grew up in nearby Williamstown, has cultivated a sort of “following” over the years. He is instantly recognizable to many for his trademark Times Argus ball cap, his long jean shorts, large glasses and bushy white beard. Around the holidays, the jolly carrier often dressed as Santa Claus to deliver newspapers.
Bailey also is remembered for being part of a dynamic duo, when he did the paper route with his wife of 23 years, Laurie, who passed away Aug. 18, 2017. Many people The Times Argus spoke to this week said they were touched to see Bailey sticking to his route to help heal from his loss — something Bailey himself acknowledged.
“That next day (after she passed), I was out here,” Bailey said. “A lot of people had sympathy and it did help me to talk to some of those people.”
Bailey, who is very modest when it comes to talking about himself, looks back on those days fondly.
“When I did both sides of the street, we would do it together. I would do one side of the street and she had the other side. It’s been especially hard during the last two summers, thinking about the things we used to do. Being home alone on the weekend and not going anywhere (with her) is really hard,” he added.
Bailey would much rather talk about Laurie and all of the friends he has made over the years.
Along his route Tuesday, Bailey ran into many of his regulars. His route begins at the tax department on State Street and includes stops at the Secretary of State’s Office, the Pavilion Building (where the attorney general’s and governor’s offices are located), the State House, the Joint Fiscal Committee Office, Buildings and General Services and the Green Mountain Care Board.
Businesses along the way included the Community National Bank, Capitol Plaza Hotel, Pinky’s and Botanical Florals. On Main Street, Bailey also makes stops at The Associated Press, City Center and Montpelier City Hall.
Several at the tax department spoke of their affection for Bailey and his late wife, and for that smiling face and cheery “hello” that came through the door each day.
“He’s a wonderful fellow, and you can count on your paper being here, nice and dry,” said Joy Charron, a data clerk. “It makes my day when he stops by with that smile on his face. I’m gonna miss him and it will be hard to fill his shoes.”
Charron said she would never forget the day Bailey was featured on WCAX, dressed as Santa during the holiday season.
“You can see why he fits the bill,” Charron said, with a laugh.
“He’s always very friendly and everyone is very happy to see him when he comes,” said Pam Holden, a tax compliance specialist. “This paper route — who does that anymore? We appreciate it here. ... I like to have a paper-paper. I read it online, too, but I like to sit down and have the paper in my hand. I’m old school.”
Sergeant-at-Arms Janet Miller just happened to be in the tax department when Bailey and a reporter visited.
“The state has seen him throughout these years, stopping in every morning,” Miller said. “Depending on the weather, no matter what, he trucks on through, which is admirable.”
At the Secretary of State’s Office, Alana Alger has been administrative services coordinator for two and a half years. She said Bailey’s daily presence has made him a part of the fabric of the city.
“He’s here every single day,” Alger said. “He’s really dedicated, and I would say he’s been the face on State Street. Even when he’s hurting, he’s still here.”
Alger was referring to a foot injury that Bailey suffered last winter that he only recently got treated. Despite the injury, Bailey has continued his paper route, wearing a protective boot to reduce the stress on his foot. However, it is that injury that has forced Bailey’s retirement.
On State Street, Green Mountain Transit bus driver Raymond Bisson, of Barre, said he has known Bailey for 20 years.
“He has a lot of friends and he’s a magnetic character,” Bisson said. “Steve is a pillar of our community. He’s always willing to lend a helping hand, has interesting stories. You want to be his friend.”
Bailey said he had seen many new faces over the years, including the most famous “faces” of Vermont.
“I got to know Gov. Douglas, Gov. Shumlin and Gov. Scott,” Bailey said. “They’ll stop and talk to me for a couple of minutes and say ‘hi.’ Seeing that I’m here all the time, I would be friendly with all of them.”
In the Attorney General’s Office, Renee Putney, a financial specialist, said she knew Laurie Bailey for years.
“Steve’s been delivering our newspaper for quite a few years, and I knew his wife when I worked with her at Price Chopper way back, when they first met,” Putney said. “They’re good people.”
In the State House, Bailey would deliver the newspaper to the Legislative Council, Senate Pro Tem, Speaker of the House and the chief of the Capitol Police. (This week the State House is closed, however, for renovation and maintenance.)
Jack Zeilenga, assistant state curator with Buildings and General Services, said Bailey made a point of pointing out any State House stories to staff.
“Sometimes, we’ll buy an extra copy or two because of that,” Zeilenga said. “He’s an institution here with us. ... It’s great to see him every day when he comes in — rain or shine or snow, or whatever it’s doing outside, and I’m always amazed when he trudges in here.”
At the Green Mountain Care Board, Bailey ran into Agatha Kessler, a health policy director who has known him for 10 years. She helped arrange his retirement party.
“The word that comes to mind with Steve is perseverane. He just perseveres every day — rain, snow, injured, and he has a very physical day,” Kessler said. “When you think you’re having a bad day, and see Steve out there delivering papers, you realize that’s what perseverance is all about and I think he’s inspirational to a lot of people in town.”
That has led to lasting friendships.
“Secretaries, commissioners, even the governor’s office, they all care about Steve. Steve puts off a neighborhood vibe — he turns State Street into a neighborhood,” Kessler added. “People just want to give back to him. We know that Steve’s worked hard his whole life. His retirement is probably not one that he can afford to take, financially, so they want to help out with that.”
Times Argus Editor Steven Pappas related an anecdote that spoke volumes.
“I was at an event in Montpelier and was introduced as ‘Steve from The Times Argus,’” he said. “A woman whipped around and looked at me and said, ‘It’s not the Steve that we like, though.’”
Pappas added, “We all long for those days when newspaper carriers were wearing the bag slung over their shoulder, handing out the news. Steve has been the kindest ambassador to that time, those days. ... He really is the community we still love to believe in.”