This time, it's for Don
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 19, 2010 1:46 PM
Don Worley receives a kiss on the cheek from his daughter, Beth, in his flower shop on Spence Avenue. Worley served in the military for more than 20 years and has supported the community for 30 years in many ways. A barbecue benefit to help Worley and his family while he battles leukemia is being held Saturday at Don's Florist.
It started with a red carnation -- a small token of gratitude passed from a local business owner to the first woman to grace his modest flower shop.
But that simple exchange was far from the last of its kind.
In fact, every female who has walked into Don's Florist over the last 30 years has received the same offering.
And the shop's proprietor has built his reputation on similar acts of kindness -- volunteering to mow lawns and fix cars for spouses of deployed airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, giving discounted rates to all charities and churches -- becoming known as a man far more interested in the people those acts have touched than turning a profit.
So when word began to spread that 74-year-old Don Worley's health was waning, the community he loves so much took action.
Deep down, they knew he would never ask for help. It's just not his way, friends said.
So they came together to do for him what they say he has always done for everybody else.
And Saturday, they will converge on his simple shop along Spence Avenue to raise money on his behalf -- their thank you of sorts for three decades of warm service.
When Worley awoke Dec. 28, he was in a kind of pain that prompted him, for the first time since the late 1970s, to see a doctor.
"He woke up and didn't feel good, so we took him to the hospital," his wife, Patti, said.
But she had no idea that her husband would be diagnosed with leukemia -- that an MRI would reveal Don had suffered six "mini-strokes," that he would be forced to endure a round of chemotherapy before he was cleared to go back home.
It was a crushing blow, Patti said, to a man who has lived his life to serve others.
"Don's thing, he has always done the deliveries, so he knows just about everyone. And he's always helped them, all of them. That's been his thing since Day One," she said.
But since his diagnosis, his role at the shop has been limited.
And these days, he can't do much more than simply be there.
"It's very depressing to see us up and working and everything -- doing the things he has always done. I can understand how heartbreaking it must be to see someone jump in his van and take off when he's done that for 30 years," Patti said. "To go from doing all the deliveries and spending most of his days socializing to nothing, it's got to be hard. I wouldn't want to be in that position."
Worley first came to Goldsboro in the late 1950s, after joining the Air Force and being assigned to Seymour Johnson.
"I was a teenager on my grandfather's farm out in the Smoky Mountains and he had worked me to death," he said. "I thought, 'There's got to be a better way.' So I found it."
And he found that the military lifestyle suited him -- he got the opportunity to travel from Europe to Asia and learned just how much he loved to serve others when he was sent to Vietnam as a "glorified school teacher."
"It's the best job anyone could ever have, teaching adult students. They really want to learn," he said. "I just enjoyed it so much."
So when, after more than 20 years in the military, he retired and moved back to Wayne County, he looked for other ways to serve.
And when he, ultimately, combined his passion for flowers with his love of people, he found countless ways to do just that.
He saw his shop as more than just a way to make a living.
It was a way to connect with people from all walks of life -- a place where their many causes would be supported.
His business would become the venue where locals could drop off donations for troops overseas during Operation Desert Storm.
"My wife and I were going down the road one day, drinking a Mountain Dew, and she said, 'I bet those guys are thirsty over there.' So I talked to the wife of the wing commander at the time and she said, 'You get the drinks, and I'll get the plane,'" he said. "We ended up sending 500 cases."
And when he noticed that many of the women who came into the shop were wives of deployed airmen -- and were having trouble -- he, again, took action.
"Some of the guys, they had to go on short notice, so they were having trouble, the girls were, with their cars -- getting them started and so forth," Worley said. "So we put out a notice ... and when they came back, a lot of the guys came into the shop, the husbands, thanking us for being there for their wives."
Saturday, a community will do for Worley what many who live within it say he would do for any one of them without hesitation.
And they hope that the man's compassion will be contagious -- that those who show up will offer whatever they can to help offset the costs associated with his condition.
Worley will be there, making sure each who walks through the door will leave with more than just a plate of barbecue.
"He'll have his red carnations. We've made sure 500 are standing by," Patti said. "Anything people can contribute would help. I mean, it will never get better, so we're just looking to be able to take it one day at a time. We'll let the good Lord take care of the rest."