Charles “Charley” Birdsong, Jr. died on March 6, 2019, at Magnolia Lane Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Morganton, NC. He is survived by his brothers, Rod of Marion, NC and Bill of Sarasota, FL. He was 74.
His life included a long period of struggle with various debilitating conditions, though in younger years he was physically strong and often engaged with others in altruistic purposes.
Charley graduated in 1966 with a B.A. degree in Humanities from Florida Southern College (FSC) in Lakeland, Florida. While a student there, he held leadership positions in his fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and in the Methodist Student Movement, an on-campus ministry in which he served as president in his senior year. He had musical interests and ability and was a member of the FSC Concert Choir.
During most summer breaks from college, Charley served as a counselor at the Methodist youth camp in Leesburg, Florida. He spent one summer working in a Green Giant canning plant in Washington State and traveling with friends through the western U.S.
Throughout his high school and college years Charley was active in the Methodist church and developed a strong Christian faith. Upon graduation from FSC, Charley entered a short-term mission program through the Florida Methodist Conference. He received training in Costa Rica for six months, where he gained fluency in Spanish, then was assigned to a mission program in Montevideo, Uruguay for three years.
The church program in Montevideo in which he worked was Casa de la Amistad – “Friendship House” – where he supervised classes in various job areas such as accounting, shorthand, dress-making, and cooking. He also served as a counselor for two youth groups and coordinated a sports program through which he acquired formidable “futbol” (soccer) skills. He often assisted the pastor in clerical functions, and he used his musical interest in directing a vocal quartet. He preached his first sermon in Spanish six months after his arrival in Montevideo. The variety of his duties pleased him.
Especially because of the church’s concern for the disadvantaged segments of the population, Charley became knowledgeable of Columbian politics. His letters back home sometimes described neighborhood unrest due to street gangs, national political tension and a growing Communist influence in Uruguay.
Not long after his return to the U.S., Charley’s life was forever changed by an illness that corrupted his sense of self and his perception of others. In his mid-20’s, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He spent large portions of the rest of his life in various institutions and care facilities. As shown in his writings, however, he was able to maintain a degree of faith in God and he continued to have periods of hope that he would recover from his illness.
By the last year of his life, Charley had serious hearing loss and was virtually blind due to diabetes, but he could still be witty and articulate on occasion. On his last evening prior to death, a nurse at the facility where he resided said he had joked with her about her “hiding” behind her desk. “I always enjoyed his sense of humor,” she said. Later he had been frustrated that no one understood when he wanted some water. The nurse took care of that and calmed him. She later wept when she explained, “I know we’re not supposed to get too attached, but Charles was one of my favorites. I really miss him.”
Charlie was blessed that night, his last night, by the kindness of someone who truly cared about him.