Billy & Peggy Griffin

Published in Fall 2013 | My story—my place in Methodist Home for Children’s history—actually begins in 1917 with an 8-year-old named Ray Griffin from Beaufort County. This boy was my father. His mother died giving birth to his sister, and his father was left alone with no wife by his side to raise six children. So the Methodist church in Washington, N.C., reached out to the orphanage to see if it could take some of these children, and my father, his three sisters and one brother were admitted in 1917. They lived at the campus with many other orphanage brothers and sisters until they graduated from high school. They were helped at a time when there were no other means for them and for their father to support them. They all went on to live productive lives.

My father went to work in Durham after marrying my mother, a girl from a little town called Cash Corner in Pamlico County. My sister was born in 1932 and I arrived shortly after, with two years separating us. Later, two younger brothers became a part of our family. We enjoyed the many tales our father told about the orphanage, and I can remember the trips back to the orphanage at Easter when alumni would have their annual reunion. I loved visiting the beautiful campus and playing baseball with my dad and the other alumni when they’d challenge the current orphanage children to a game between the generations.

I was as happy as any 10-year-old boy could be. My world was perfect until one night, after playing catch at home with my father, I went to bed only to awake in the morning to terrible news. My father had passed away during the night from a massive heart attack at the age of 37. I was devastated. Before long, I learned that my younger brother and I would enter the same orphanage where my father was raised. The year was 1946. It was history repeating itself in my own family.

Billy and Peggy Griffin

Billy and Peggy Griffin at Wilmington’s Epicurean Evening

My wife, Peggy, was living with her mother and father and six siblings in rural Franklin County. They were poor sharecroppers and struggled as many families did during the Depression. But at least they were a family and they got by—until one night her father fell ill and very unexpectedly died from a heart attack. He was 41 years old. This left Peggy’s mother with six children to raise and one on the way. It was a hopeless situation until the Methodist church in Louisburg came to their aid. The one opportunity to save them was to place four of the children at Methodist Orphanage. The year was 1941. Peggy was only 6 years old and her sister was 3 years old. They and two older brothers were admitted at the same time. She would spend 12 years of her life at the orphanage, and she graduated from the Methodist Orphanage High School in 1953.

Life at the orphanage was unique. We felt blessed. We lived on a wooded campus in large brick buildings with over 300 brothers and sisters. We ate together, we attended classes together, we played together and we worked together. After graduation, many of our orphanage siblings went on to college and led productive lives with careers such as doctors, teachers, preachers, business executives and skilled technicians.

There are many stories we could tell about the orphanage, but I’ll share just a couple of my favorites:

We ate in a central dining room and every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights we had on our table a bowl of peanut butter, a jar of molasses, a loaf of bread and a pitcher of fresh milk from our dairy farm. And we knew exactly how to mix that up, put it on the bread and eat that peanut butter and molasses. Three nights a week for 52 weeks is 156 nights a year eating peanut butter and molasses. That’s a lot of peanut butter and molasses. But we loved it then and we still love it today.

Christmas was a very favorite time for us. We had a church in Raleigh, Edenton Street Methodist Church, and the Fidelis class would always get our Christmas gifts. We could wish for anything we wanted, so long as it wasn’t over $2. So my first Christmas I wished for a box of Almond Joys. Sure enough, when I went to the auditorium Christmas morning, Santa Claus handed out gifts and I had a whole box of Almond Joys. Now folks, that is 24 pieces of pieces of candy. When you’re 11 years old, that’s a lot of candy.

So I got back to the dorm and one of my orphanage brothers came in and said, “What did you get?” And I told him. And he said, “If you give me one of those Almond Joys, when my mother comes, I’ll give you some fruit.” I said, “Man that’s a good deal.” I said OK, so I gave him one. Time went by, and I finally saw him one day and I said, “By the way, when is your mother coming?” He said, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “Don’t you remember? I gave you an Almond Joy and you said when your mother came you’d give me some fruit.” And he said, “Why do you think I am in the orphanage? I don’t have a mother!” This was my first lesson in sharing and expecting nothing in return.

It was fate that Peggy and I would meet in a place where hundreds of children before us had lived their lives and left to become responsible citizens. We were married in 1954 and we have two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.