Nancy C. Avery, a lifelong civil rights activist and the first black person to head a major post office, died Jan. 29 in Lancaster. She was 72 and died of a heart attack, said her son, Darnell.
She had retired as Pacoima's postmaster in 1984 and moved to Lancaster about five years later.
Mrs. Avery, an active Democratic Party worker, was a housewife and school recreation assistant in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy named her postmaster of Pacoima. That was at a time when Postal Service appointments were made by the President rather than through Civil Service examination.
Local Democratic leaders had urged the appointment because of her work for the party and the PTA, her lengthy affiliation with the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and her race.
"The Democratic Party wanted to do something that had never been done before," she said just before retiring. "I was the token."