BETHLEHEM — Barbara Berner delivered more than mail.
“If you were walking up the driveway to the mailbox, she’d be waving and smiling and beeping her horn,” said David Everett, a 64-year-old resident on Berner’s Weekeepeemee Road mail route. “She was the most wonderful person I ever met.”
Berner, formerly Barbara Satula, died last Tuesday when a wind gust toppled a tree that struck her mail truck. She was 52.
Family, friends and customers remember her as an outgoing, hard-working, gardening, Bruce Springsteen-loving person as quick with a smile as she was with the morning mail.
“She loved talking to people,” said Caitlin Cattey, her 21-year-old daughter. “She was a great spirit.”
Born and raised in Milford, where her parents still live, Berner maintained many of the same friends she’s had since childhood. Two years ago, she organized a group trip to Florida to celebrate 50 years of life and friendship.
Regina Tierney, a friend of Berner’s since infancy, described her as a horticultural artist on par with Martha Stewart, lugging large stones all over Litchfield County for her garden and a fish pond she built on her own. She loved to travel and indulged a sense of adventure with white-water rafting and skiing. Tierney also praised her cooking.
But mostly, people enjoyed Berner’s heart.
Denee Wilkes, a 31-year-old Weekeepeemee Road resident, lives at the last stop on Berner’s route. She said Berner would always hand-deliver packages up their steep, long driveway and have sweet words for her three young daughters.
“She was always so happy,” Wilkes said. “Bundled up in her hat and coat.”
Wilkes and her daughters wrapped artificial flowers and pinned a pair of signs to their mailbox, thanking Berner for her service and declaring how they will miss her.
“She was just very kind and loving,” Tierney said. “She was the first to stop and help someone if they were in dire straits. Just happy, lovely and bubbly.”
Berner volunteered as an emergency medical technician with the Bethlehem Ambulance Association for more than a decade before moving to Naugatuck in April. Cattey followed her mother’s example, visiting the ambulance crew when she was 10 and riding with her as she trained for her medical response certifications on her way to becoming an EMT.
Cattey credits her mother for putting her on a path to meet her husband, John, an EMT with whom she lives in Bantam.
“When on a code, take care of what needs to be done,” Cattey said of one of the lessons she learned from her mother. “Wait until after to think about it.”
But when a text message awoke her about 11 a.m. Tuesday, after she had worked a night shift, she suspected the worst.
There was a fatal accident involving a postal worker in Bethlehem. It was her mom’s route. And she was the only carrier normally on the road so early in the day—part of her mother’s multi-tasking discipline, Cattey said.
Cattey drove to the Bethlehem Post Office, and her mother’s co-workers took her to the scene of the accident. She endured the presence of a network television news camera as a policeman told her what she already suspected.
Still shocked by the sudden loss Wednesday, Cattey and her husband organized funeral plans and coordinated with Berner’s two brothers in Maryland and New Hampshire. At the house Berner had been fixing up in Naugatuck, Cattey noticed a bookmark sprouting from a book, entitled “There Are No Accidents.”
Tierney shared her friend’s spiritual beliefs: past lives, life-after-death. She said Berner believed her maternal grandparents had been looking out for her.
“I think God wanted her on the other side,” Tierney said of the accident. “It was such a fluky thing.”
Cattey also found some solace in searching for meaning behind the perfectly horrible junction of a tree’s weak roots, a blast of wind and a postal carrier’s appointed rounds.
“I’m not saying it happened for a good reason,” she said with teary eyes. “But you know …”