He put them to bed, woke them up, drove them to school, brought them back, fixed their snacks and repaired their home away from home and now the fraternal paternal figure is getting a taste of his own medicine.
Members of the Alpha Omicron chapter of the now dormant Chi Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia are making sure retired fraternity handyman and housefather Billy Hearns has what he needs, from food to jazz.
The 82-year-old Hearns worked for the fraternity for 50 years, retiring several years ago. Since his wife died, a band of brothers from five decades of fraternity life has provided him daily meals through online company Let’s Dish, which prepares meals and sends them to the Charlottesville resident.
“Billy means a lot to us because he was such a strong father figure. When his wife died in 2008, we wanted to do something to help him out and we decided we’d keep his refrigerator full so he wouldn’t have to worry about meals,” said Brian Valeyko, who graduated from UVa in 1994. “We wanted to do something for him after all that he did for us.”
Hearns did it all. He started working at the 10,000-square-foot, off-grounds fraternity house known as The Lodge in 1951. He maintained the large home located near the U.S. 250 Bypass and Rugby Road that formerly served as the Charlottesville Country Club in the early 1900s. He also made sure the brothers were where they were supposed to be.
After Hearns retired and UVa went from a fall rush to spring rush, the fraternity slowly lost members. In 2008, it went dormant and now rents The Lodge to members of the Jefferson Literary and Debate Society.
“Billy is probably the reason a lot of the brothers graduated in the first place,” laughed Shawn Brydge, who graduated in 2000. “He was always looking out for us. He knocked on your door in the morning to get you up for class. He drove a van from The Lodge to the Grounds to get the brothers to school and picked us up and brought us back. He helped a lot of us through a lot of hard times and gave so much of himself to the fraternity. The least we could do was provide for him in a tough time.”
The brothers arranged a spreadsheet signup form for Hearns’ meals and each chooses a week during which they plan his meals and pay the cook. Let’s Dish, with locations in Alexandria, Ashburn and Fairfax, prepares the food and sends it to Hearns, who keeps it in his refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.
“We have so many people who want to help Billy out that there’s never a problem getting someone to sign up and they only have to sign up for one week, maybe two, a year,” Valeyko said.
“They’re doing their best for me and I appreciate it,” Hearns said. “Every week I get meals and put them in the freezer until I need them and sometimes they send so much that I have more than I need. When that happens, I’ll give the food away to someone who needs it. You have to take care of people.”
That was Hearns’ motto for most of his working life.
“I worked six days a week for right many years. I did all of the repairs and sanding and painting on that house,” he said. “If there was an electrical line, I ran it. If there was a door put in, I hung it. We had a cook, but when the cook would go home, I’d make up meals. I took care of them and now they’re taking care of me.”
They’re doing it in ways other than making meals.
“If I need anything, they help me out,” Hearns said. “And they take me down to New Orleans every year for the jazz festival. Not Mardis Gras, but the jazz festival. That’s some good friends. When you do right to people, it will follow you through the rest of your life.”
For the brothers, it’s just giving back to someone who gave to them.
“Every time you see him, he has a big smile and a big hug for you and he’s always asking what he can do to help you, even at 82,” Brydge said. “In this day and age, they just don’t make people like Billy Hearns any more.”