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Barnardsville man says checking in with hundreds of people by phone is his calling

This is just a small sample of the hundreds of people Buddy Dillingham has called to check on over the years. He's counseled some of them through deaths in the family. The bedridden Barnardsville man says he doesn't want others to feel the loneliness he feels. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Our Person of the Week is a voice of joy, even when he's in the depths of sadness. Buddy Dillingham is a lifeline to hundreds of people in the Barnardsville community.

Some 20 years ago, he turned to the landline that means as much to him as the people he dials up.

"I said, 'How would you like to have someone just call you?'" he recalls of the habit that started with a few people from church.

It's snowballed into some 300 people on the list.

"I wouldn't know what to do without my people," said Buddy, who spends most mornings reaching out to folks at least once a week.

"I mean, I find out, would they like for me to call them?" he explained. "Lord spoke to my heart, and that's what I've been doing for him ever since."

"Here's some I hadn't put in my book yet," he said, looking through scraps of paper with phone numbers scrawled on them. "A little ratty looking, about wore out, like me!"

"I'm laying here, and thought I'd let you be the first one," he said to one of his regulars.

His real name is Claude, but it quickly became apparent why his nickname is Buddy.

"Yeah, buddy!" he said repeatedly while making his calls, always belting out a hearty laugh.

"I got to give you more pep!" he said during another conversation.

Asking folks what they're having for dinner might seem like small talk, but every chat means more than they'll ever know.

"It's so good, if you even drop one piece of it, you're mouth will come unhinged trying to get it," Buddy laughed, referring to his sister's meatloaf.

"I'm giving them something to look forward to," he told us of his routine. "And it's something to give me something to look forward to."

Buddy doesn't want anyone to be as isolated as he is.

"Heartache, heartbreaking," he said of his profound loneliness. "I know all about it. For the past nine years, this room has been what I call my world. "

That was the elephant in the 12-by-12 room that feels like a cell at times to Buddy.

"But my calling, when I call people, that sort of takes me away from being in this bed, being confined," he said.

Buddy was born with spina bifida. For most of his life, the birth defect's left him unable to walk.

"I wouldn't mislead you or nobody, I've had my moments where it would come down my face like a river," he said of his tears. "And I've broke down many times and cried.

"I was in church one day when the preacher was preaching on loneliness," he recalled. "I've known for a long time the Lord wanted me to do something for him."

He took divine intervention and dialed with it.

"Like the old saying, I've been better, been worse, been somewhere in between," he said on the phone to another friend.

Outside his house, about a dozen people he's called over the years gathered to sing his praises.

"He calls me every Thursday morning," said Lavon Dillingham.

"Bud calls me Tuesday morning about 9 o'clock," said Elaine Hensley.

"He usually calls me on Saturday mornings," Justice Cooper said.

"There's more people I wish I could get to, but I can't," admitted Buddy.

"He's just a blessing to so many," Lavon said, holding a photo of her brother who died of cancer last year.

Buddy described him as one of God's flowers as he counseled Lavon.

"When he sees flowers wilting on earth, he sends his gardener angel," Lavon said, remembering the story Buddy told her. "And he sows them in his garden in heaven.

"He helped me to really feel better about my brother being gone," she said.

Whether it's a family crisis or a quick greeting, Buddy said God gave him a calling.

"And I know there's people out there more qualified and capable than me," he said. "But he chose me."

That crowd of people on his list filed into Buddy's room to say hello.

"Hi there Bud!" they told him. "You've got a crowd of people out here."

"Yeah, buddy!" he responded, the familiar catchphrase lighting up the room.

Like clockwork, friends have counted on Buddy. At the same time, their conversations make them count their blessings.

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