It was a busy, stormy summer night. Lineworkers Craig Loving and James Kelly had already clocked four or five hours of overtime restoring electricity to Northern Neck Electric Cooperative members along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay when yet another call came in.
An elderly member feared her home had been struck by lightning. Her lights were out, and the potential for fire had her up and anxious.
“It felt like lightning hit the side of my house, on the wall where the head of the bed rests against it. I felt the bump and it knocked me out of bed,” said Helen Mitchell, 84, of Heathsville, Virginia.
When the lineworkers pulled up in their truck at Mitchell’s single-story home, Kelly, a 32-year veteran at NNEC, got out to check the service line and pole, while Loving, the foreman, knocked on the door to hear the member’s concerns.
“She was pretty scared. She had thought lightning had hit her house,” Loving said in a recent interview. “Lightning struck close to the house, close enough to trip her breakers.”
Loving offered to check the panel box inside but pointed to the thick mud on his boots.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry about the mud,’” he recalled.
He showed Mitchell and her daughter how to flip the breakers. Power was restored. Then, at Mitchell’s request, Loving looked around the house. He found no sign of danger.
“She calmed down then, and she said, ‘Do you mind if I give you a hug?’”
Before departing, Loving said he told her “there was nothing to worry about. If the lights go off again, call us back.”
Loving and Kelly went on about their summer, laden with extra work brought on by the season’s unusually heavy rains. The call to Mitchell’s house elapsed with many others. So when the 50-year member stood up to speak at NNEC’s annual meeting in August, there was a bit of tension in the air.
That quickly evaporated when she told her story.
“It’s wonderful to think we have people working in our area like that, especially for an old lady who didn’t have anybody,” said Mitchell, whose husband died in 2016. “It was one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve seen, but they came out in it and before they left I had power.
“I’ve been burned out of my home twice. It’s devastating. I thank the Lord those boys come and checked every inch of everywhere and rest assured I was safe. That was a good, good feeling. I’m very proud of the service [of NNEC]. I’m very thankful that I am a part of something as friendly as the co-op.”
Days later, at an all-employee meeting, NNEC President Greg White asked who had come to Mitchell’s aid. Loving and Kelly said they were just doing their job and were taken aback by her praise.
“How we feel is, we work for her,” said Loving.
“She was very appreciative of me coming inside her home, and for James checking around outside to confirm nothing was wrong. There was not much to it, but five minutes can make a difference to the member.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.