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The oldest petrol station attendant in Europe retires at 88

18:07 16/03/2021

The oldest petrol station attendant in Belgium – and reportedly Europe – has retired after 64 years at the pump. Maria Van Hemel was notable not only because of her advanced age (88) but because she actually came out to the pump when customers arrived – just like she did when she pumped the petrol herself.

Van Hemel has run the Total station on Poederleeseweg since the day it opened, and she never left. She is a beloved figure in Herentals, Antwerp province, having served the citizens at Garage Dankers for more than six decades, since a large number of them were born.

“According to Total, I am the oldest station attendant in Europe,” she told Radio 2. “They’ve never seen anyone like me before.”

Since her retirement was announced, a flood of flowers and cards have been arriving at the petrol station. “I really liked my job,” she said. “So many wonderful people come by. I have worked this long because I can’t stand to leave them.”

No Total, no Maria

In her decades at the post, she has heard it all, she says, with people confiding in her as if she was tending bar. “They often told me their miseries, and I tried to help. I have never had a problem with a single person who came here. You always have to remember that you yourself are not perfect and not expect that of anyone else either.”

Van Hemel started at the Total in 1957. In the early years she worked from 6.00 to 22.00 seven days a week, she told Het Laatste Nieuws. Her husband once ran the garage located behind the station, but he died three years ago. When Total decided to dismantle the station, Van Hemel knew it was time to enjoy a little retirement.

But she leaves with great stories to tell. “One time early in the morning, there was a ruckus outside. I looked out the window, and there were three boys who were totally drunk standing there outside a car. I yelled out at them to come inside the garage. I put on the coffee, and they sat here with me. I managed to get the keys, and then I called their parents, who came and got them. They have always been grateful for that, lord knows what would have happened if they have driven that car. I still get a flower every years from those parents. Isn’t that nice?”

Photo courtesy Total


Written by Lisa Bradshaw