UPDATED: Buckingham Post Office couple 'overwhelmed' with goodwill messages as they prepare to depart
Long-serving postmaster and postmistress will be handing over the reins tomorrow, Tuesday
Buckingham's long-serving postmaster and postmistress have been 'overwhelmed' with goodwill messages, cards, flowers and chocolates, since they announced their imminent departure this week.
Dozens of heartfelt messages have been posted on the Buckingham What Matters to You Facebook page, as Rita and Sunil Gandhi prepare to hand over the reins.
Rita, aged 60, has been in charge of Buckingham's Post Office for 17 years, before which she ran a Post Office in Old Bletchley for 18 years.
It was originally going to be Sunil, 62, who was going to be the postmaster at Old Bletchley. But the letter offering him the job arrived the same day as he was offered a job in IT and he decided to continue his IT career.
Instead, Rita, who had been working at a bank, took up the opportunity to run her own business. Sunil joined his wife at the much larger Buckingham Post Office in 2004.
Now the couple, who live in Milton Keynes, are looking forward to taking a break from working six days a week.
But Rita said they will only be semi-retiring, as they will take on some relief work for other Post Offices.
She told the Advertiser: "We're hoping to maybe travel a bit because obviously, having run a Post Office for so long, we've probably had a handful of holidays in all the time, so we're looking forward to doing a bit of travelling, and just taking it easy - maybe pursuing some of our new hobbies, taking on some new things and yes, having time to do all of that as well."
On Tuesday, October 12, Buckingham Post Office is being taken over by Jigar Patel, who currently runs the Post Office in Deanshanger.
Rita said: "Tuesday morning we'll be closed so we can do the handover and everything will be audited, so we can then hand over to Mr Patel and that will be it and we'll be free to leave."
Asked how that will feel, she said: "Amazing, I think. Because this process has taken so long, we were thinking, is this ever going to end?
"Basically, we decided we were just going to cut down the hours we were there. But unfortunately, with Covid and everything, it didn't work out.
"So it was our decision to go. We've been doing this for a long time now, and doing it six days a week, it's stressful to say the least, and we just wanted to have a choice about when we work."
Rita and Sunil managed to keep their Post Office open almost throughout the pandemic.
Rita said: "We had a few problems - a couple of our staff had to shield because of their families and things like that. But we managed. Myself and my husband were here and we cut down the hours we did.
"The first two weeks of lockdown we were closed because I wasn't well, then we weren't sure what was going on, but after that we've been open - shorter hours but we've been open.
"I know people had to put up with a lot of long waiting times in the queue but people were very patient and very good and it just made our job that much easier.
"We did get a lot of people coming in saying: 'Thank you for being here, we don't know what we'd do without you.'
"Because people couldn't go and visit family, people were sending out food parcels and gifts and all kinds of things over the pandemic. Christmas was all up in the air. I think it was a tough time for everyone but we worked through it and it was fine."
Rita says the couple have been humbled by the amount of comments on Facebook since they confirmed their departure.
"It's been overwhelming, the number of people who've commented on there," she said. "Our first message went out at the beginning of August, and within days it was unbelievable.
"It's really humbling to think how many people think so well of us. We just never realised.
"Our motto is, a smile and a friendly face doesn't cost anything and if we can help anyone, that's our job.
"We try our best, and it shows people have appreciated us over the years.
"So many people have popped in to wish us well, it's amazing."
And she added: "The people of Buckingham have really taken to us, I think, and it's been such a pleasure to work here. We really enjoyed coming in.
"It was just a pleasure to be here and help people, and the Buckingham people really showed their appreciation. We've just enjoyed it."
Rita's farewell message to the people of Buckingham was: "Just thank you. Thank you for making our lives easier, thank you for being so good, so wonderful, and we are overwhelmed by the comments and the cards and flowers and chocolates.
"It's just been overwhelming really."
Post Office area manager Josh Richardson said: “Rita has been a very long-serving postmistress who has been very hard working and committed to the two Buckinghamshire communities that she has served.
"Rita and Sunil are highly regarded. They definitely deserve to take things easier, but I am also glad they also want to do some relief Post Office work, which will also allow other postmasters to have a well-earned break.”