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'Service with a Smile'

John Kitchen retires from UPS after 23 years driving a route near Lake Anne.

Each day John Kitchen, dressed in brown, left his home by 7:15 a.m. By 8:30 a.m. he was on his UPS route, handing out packages, about 130 per day — 300 during the holidays. After eight to 10 hours, he’d head home.

For 23 years, Kitchen made a career of making deliveries, being reliable and being friendly.

“Nothing that out of the ordinary happened, just day-to-day deliveries,” said Kitchen.

But something remarkable had happened. Kitchen, who lives in Gainesville, became part of the community, nearly as recognizable in the Lake Anne area as Robert E. Simon.

“You always felt like someone was taking special care of you,” said Susan Badger, one of the many customers on Kitchen’s route.

STARTING IN 1982, Kitchen began making deliveries “with a smile” to the people on North Shore Drive. “Back then my route stretched from Route 7 to Isaac Newton Square. Now, that route is done by four drivers,” said Kitchen, explaining that UPS had to match the growth in the area.

Focusing on Lake Anne and North Shore Drive, Kitchen is thankful for the chance to get to know the people on his route.

“I know Lake Anne, street for street, number for number, and name for name,” he said. “I can’t go down the street without having someone wave to me or stop to talk to me.”

For years now Kitchen has been on a first-name basis with members of the community.

For Robyn Berry, Kitchen’s service was always out of the ordinary. “He always went out of his way to be courteous and accommodating to his route residents,” said Berry.

One time when Kitchen was doing his route he bumped into Berry at her office building, which was also on his route. “After that he always stopped in the office first to see if I wanted to get my package there,” said Berry.

But besides his special service, Kitchen was known for something else.

“He always had a smile on his face,” said Berry. “Everyone here referred to him as ‘Our UPS man.’”

On occasion, Kitchen even made stops to the home of Reston’s founder, Robert E. Simon. “Talk about service with a smile,” said Simon. “He had a lot of common sense, too. If I wasn’t home to receive a delivery, he’d always leave a note where I could find it.”

With pride, Kitchen remembers making stops to Simon’s home as well as many others in the Heron House. “Sixty percent of my route was steps,” Kitchen said.

FOR THE LAST 20 years Kitchen has sent out Christmas cards to many of the people he’s gotten to know on his route, the only route he’s had for his entire tenure at UPS. “Some of those people have kept all 20 cards,” said Kitchen, who’s been married for 30 years.

Through those cards and his stops each day, many in the area know that Kitchen, father of two, is now a grandfather of a 3-year-old named Jenna, with another grandchild due in the spring.

Just as he’s watched his two children — Melissa Layton, 29, and Matthew Kitchen, 25 — grow up, he’s seen many more children grow up near Lake Anne. “I’ve seen the cycle of life,” said Kitchen.

For his retirement, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his own family. “Though I will not be running stops each day, I will be staying busy in this new chapter of my life,” said Kitchen. He added that he and his wife plan to volunteer more with their church. Kitchen also plans to teach various classes from time to time.

KITCHEN’S LAST DAY on the route before retiring was Sept. 9, a day he called “bittersweet.”

“Literally, I had people come up to my truck last week and cry. It was a tough week for me and them,” he said.

Others say they will miss his exceptional service. “I don’t think you get service like that generally anymore,” said Badger.

Simon said so, too. “He was great. We’ll miss him.”

Kitchen said he’ll miss working for UPS. “The hardest part of this move will be leaving the people who I have served over the last 23 years,” he said in a letter he gave to the people on his route. “Needless to say, you have all become a close part of my life, and I hope I have become a part of yours, too.”