Leadership

Edward Vernon “Pete” Dorsey

Edward Vernon Dorsey III, was an early member of the department and served as the President of the department from 1951 to 1954.

The Rev. Edward V. “Pete” Dorsey, 82, an Episcopal priest who helped deliver the mail for many years before he began delivering God’s word from a pulpit, died Jan. 5 in Salisbury.

“Father Pete,” rector of Grace Episcopal Church near Princess Anne, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was an Upper Marlboro native.  He entered the ministry in 1984, after retiring from his position as an assistant postmaster general in 1979.
He was postmaster in Upper Marlboro until 1962, served as an Upper Marlboro town commissioner for 12 years and as president of the Marlboro Lions Club and the Marlboro Volunteer Fire Department.

Promoted to post office headquarters in Washington, he served as branch and division director, deputy assistant postmaster general for field operations, executive assistant to the postmaster general and regional postmaster general for the eastern, New York metropolitan and southern regions of the U.S. Postal Service. During the last six years of his postal service, he was senior assistant postmaster general for operations.

An inveterate storyteller and a compelling preacher, he never wrote down a sermon, yet, as one of his parishioners noted, his remarks were unfailingly wise, funny and theologically on point. Responding to the day’s scripture, he never lacked for something to say; his pulpit challenge, his son noted, was to keep his remarks to a reasonable length.

A self-proclaimed yellow-dog Democrat whose favorite brand of beer was Heineken — because that’s what John F. Kennedy drank — his political proclivities found their way into his sermons, homilies and Sunday morning Bible study lessons. “It was done in many cases with good humor,” said parishioner William Niskanen, chairman of the Cato Institute and a former member of the Reagan administration.

A gifted player of the ponies who could figure a parimutuel bet before he was 8 years old, he rarely missed a Kentucky Derby. As the oldest member of his seminary class by several decades, the mentoring he gave fellow seminarians included how to lay smart bets.

Rev. Dorsey was born in Bowie and grew up in Upper Marlboro. His father died in a railroad accident when he was young, and his mother relinquished his upbringing, along with that of his brother, to a great aunt and uncle. The uncle was a professional gambler; thus the early education in the sport of kings.

After graduating from Marlboro High School in 1941, he attended the University of Maryland and then entered the Army, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant at Fort Benning, Ga., and assigned to B Company, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division. He saw combat in France and Germany and was awarded a Purple Heart after losing his right leg three inches below the knee during the Battle of the Bulge. He also received a Bronze Star.

Immediately after his discharge, the 22-year-old veteran was appointed postmaster of Upper Marlboro. It was a political patronage job arranged by U.S. Rep. Lansdale G. Sasscer, an Upper Marlboro Democrat. (The Dorseys were not only Democrats, but also “Sasscercrats,” Rev. Dorsey’s son explained.)

Edward V. Dorsey Jr. said his father used his power and political influence as postmaster to push for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The elder Dorsey retired in 1969, after Richard Nixon was elected president, but returned during the 1970s.

He also served as executive director of the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, wrote a postal advice column called “Ask Pete” and edited the Postal Service’s in-house newsletter. After his second retirement in 1979, he told people he was going to read all the books he had never gotten around to reading. He also decided he would learn to play golf — quite an accomplishment, his son recalled, for a man with one leg.

In 1981, without telling family members, he was admitted as a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. Enrolling at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Lexington, Ky., he was said to be the school’s only seminarian to arrive behind the wheel of his own Cadillac, as well as the only one to buy a new Cadillac while in school.

His second calling, while unusual for a man his age, was not out of character. As a youngster at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro, he had been a choir member, an acolyte and the rector’s driver. Through the years, Trinity had been central to his life.

Graduating from seminary in 1984, he served two Kentucky churches and a congregation in Rehoboth Beach before becoming rector of Grace Episcopal Church in 1987. The historic church, in Niskanen’s words, “typically has more people on the prayer list than in the pews.”

Rev. Dorsey was one of three rectors serving the church, along with his second wife, the Rev. Laura Dorsey, and Mike Lokey. The three have helped revive the congregation, Niskanen said.

He served the parish pro bono. “I don’t want you to pay me,” he told the tiny congregation. “It just messes up my taxes.”
Rev. Dorsey was married for more than 50 years to Edith Dorsey, who died in 1997.

In addition to his son, from his first marriage, of Owings, survivors include his wife of seven years, of Princess Anne; a daughter from his first marriage, Patricia D. Stein of Easton; a stepdaughter from his second marriage, Heather Hurst of Princess Anne; two grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.