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'Sonny' delivered fun to Ozona

Residents will miss their personable postmaster, who died Tuesday after eight years in charge of the small office.

By ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


OZONA -- In an age of businesslike "Next, please" encounters at big, busy post offices, C.A. "Sonny" McBrayer knew most of his customers by name.

He high-fived youngsters, talked Gator football with anyone who would listen and teased customers with blond jokes.

The postmaster in Ozona for more than eight years, McBrayer made a small brick building tucked into the downtown a community hub.

If there was a controversial issue, folks headed to Sonny for the skinny. If a problem weighed on someone's mind, Sonny's advice and encouragement were often sought. He introduced neighbors to one another.

So it was with great sadness that many in this small gulfside community read a notice on the post office's front door last week announcing McBrayer's death at age 56.

"We're all just devastated in town," said Leonard Vincenti, a longtime Ozona resident. The community has been so touched that residents will gather outside the post office on Orange Street at 7 p.m. tonight to say a few words in Sonny's memory.

McBrayer, who died Tuesday, created a small-town warmth that made going to the post office more than just a chore, residents said.

"It's just a good, old-fashioned post office," Vincenti said. "You stop by to pick up your mail and to chat. It's kind of like Mayberry. It's part of what makes Ozona a wonderful place. Sonny was like the informal mayor, I suppose."

"He loved to make people laugh," added Vincenti's wife, Laura.

Though he gave Ozona such a homey feel, McBrayer lived nowhere near the place. Instead, he made a long daily commute from Riverview in eastern Hillsborough County. He was a longtime postal employee and came to Ozona in February 1992. He was an ordained Baptist minister and youth pastor.

"He had a deep faith in God," Mrs. Vincenti said. "He really walked the walk and talked the talk. He wasn't afraid to tell men, women and children that he loved them."

And because of his compassion, people often came to him with life's more serious problems.

"He was never too busy to give people a pearl of wisdom or a bit of encouragement or just to listen to them like they were the most important person on earth," Mrs. Vincenti said.

McBrayer also had a special rapport with children, said Christine Fanelli of Ozona.

"Sonny was always doing something sweet," she said.

He'd plop her young son Joshua on the postal scale and slap him high-fives.

"He was like that with all the kids," Fanelli said. "It's a huge loss."

"He did touch a lot of people's lives," said McBrayer's longtime sidekick, Diane Robertson, a clerk in the two-person office.

"He was definitely loved," she said. "He was a real sweet man."

The community's affection for McBrayer was apparently mutual.

"My customers are the greatest in the world," McBrayer told the St. Petersburg Times last year for a story about the institution of an hour lunch break.

In another story about a $20,000 modernization of the post office, McBrayer lamented the replacement of antique brass postal box doors with modern new ones.

"We try to retain the old Florida atmosphere here," he said.

"Sonny made Ozona feel like we were in a small town," said Mary Bunch, a resident of Ozona for more than five years.

"Even if I was having a bad day, I'd end up smiling when I left here," Bunch said. "He made this place really special."

A native of Atlanta, McBrayer was an Air Force veteran. He is survived by his wife, Yolanda; three sons, Jody of Nashville, Richard Massaro of Riverview and James Massaro of Philadelphia; and two grandchildren.

"He is buried over in Brandon," Laura Vincenti said, "but he left a big part of his heart in Ozona."

- Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

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