Retired for 18 years and widowed for five, 80-year-old Sonny Westmoreland does not let grass grow under his feet. Or his neighbor’s for that matter. He stays active helping others – like the frail neighbor whose yard he mows each week. An active deacon at Haymore Memorial Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, Westmoreland also volunteers at the local food pantry and clothes closet each week.
In addition to caring for his home, large garden and two miniature horses, Westmoreland is an avid walker at the Ararat River Greenway – staying in shape for the annual Relay for Life fundraiser where he walks one lap for each year since his successful treatment for lung cancer. Last year, that was 29 laps – seven and a quarter miles with only one lung. Like other blessings, Westmoreland deflects credit for his good health and stamina. “God’s always blessed me more than I deserve.”
Westmoreland also “opens the doors, turns on the lights and makes the coffee” two evenings each week at a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. “I used to go seven nights a week, but now just two – but not to keep from drinking. God gave me that program. Now, it’s my obligation to be there for others. You can’t do a lot for people at AA; they have to do it for themselves. But they have to have a place to go; so I keep the doors open for them.”
Westmoreland is frank about the addiction to alcohol that threatened his marriage and life. After his “Savior, Jesus Christ,” Westmoreland credits his wife Polly for seeing him through. “We met on a blind date when I got back from Korea. I kept my drinking a secret until we married and then I couldn’t any longer.”
In May of 1972, after 15 years of turmoil, Westmoreland found himself in the Alcohol Recovery Center (ARC) in Butner, North Carolina. Retelling a memory from those first days of sobriety still casts a shadow across his face. “They made a movie of the get-acquainted session on the first day and showed it to us later.
I was disgusted to see my nasty, rude attitude.” Afterwards, Westmoreland dropped to his knees and prayed, “If you’re really up there, show me what to do. I never want to be that person again.”
Because family dynamics were part of the treatment, Polly was asked to stay at the ARC for 28 days. “I had given her some pretty hard times, so I told them, ‘She won’t come.’ But she came on Sunday and stayed 28 days. Our kids were eight and nine.”
Polly became a Christian as a teenager. But Westmoreland’s road was a little longer. After two years of sobriety, he began attending church with Polly. “One Sunday, when they had the altar call, I felt I had to go up. I was baptized in a lake on the side of Turner Mountain in the summer of ‘74.”
“Polly and I had the best 39 years anyone could ever have.” The fact that Sonny and Polly were married for 53 years doesn’t dim his appreciation for the 39 years when he says he “came closer to giving her the husband she deserved.”
Westmoreland’s service to others is powerful because it stems from heart connections. His Red Bag ministry is no different. “I see Red Bags as a way to honor Polly. She worked in a doctor’s office 45 years. If she were living, she would be right here with me, getting them in the hands of people who need them.”
Westmoreland learned of Red Bags when Martha McDowell, central regional director for North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) shared “Priority #1: Prevention” programs at his church.
“I could see the need for these right away,” says Westmoreland. He pitched Red Bags as a ministry outreach to his pastor and fellow deacons and they jumped on board.
Westmoreland also purchases bags and routinely shares them with others. Deacon Eric Southern, an EMS supervisor, and Westmoreland have spoken on a local radio program sharing medication safety tips such as storing medicines in one place and making them accessible to emergency responders.
Westmoreland appreciates that each Red Bag comes with the plan of salvation. “If they are not Christians, this Red Bag may give them another chance,” concludes Sonny Westmoreland – ever the lover of a good second chance.
Red Bags are ideal for keeping medicines in one location. Learn more about Red Bags at www.ncbam.org/redbag