Alabama farmer secretly paid strangers’ pharmacy bills for 10 years

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Hody Childress was a farmer living on his meager retirement savings in the small town of Geraldine, Ala.

About 10 years ago he went to Geraldine Drugs and pulled the owner Brooke Walker aside to ask if there were any families in town who couldn’t afford to pay for their drugs.

“I told him, ‘Yeah, I’m afraid that happens a lot,'” recalls Walker, 38. “And he handed me a folded $100 bill.”

He told her to use it for anyone who couldn’t afford her prescriptions.

“He said, ‘Don’t tell a soul where the money came from — if they ask you, just tell them it’s a blessing from the Lord,'” she said.

The following month, Childress returned to hand Walker another folded $100 bill. And he repeated this every month for years until late last year, when he was rendered too weak to make the trip by the effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

When Childress died on New Year’s Day at the age of 80, Walker said she decided to let his family know about the donations that had helped several hundred people in the farming community, which is about 60 miles from Huntsville.

Over the years, Childress’ $100 bills added up to thousands of dollars, she said, noting that she was typically able to help two people a month who didn’t have insurance or whose benefits wouldn’t cover their medication.

At the same time Walker was thinking about calling Hody Childress’ family, his daughter Tania Nix was preparing to let people know about her father’s generosity at his funeral on Jan. 5.

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Before he died, he entrusted her with his pharmacy donations, she said.

“He told me that every first month he carried a $100 bill to the chemist in Geraldine and didn’t want to know who she was helping – he just wanted to make people happy with it,” said Nix, 58.

Her father was a humble man who lived on a small retirement account and Social Security, but he never hesitated to help those in need, she added.

“It was just who he was — it was in his heart,” said Nix, who works as a barber in Ider, Alabama, about 30 miles from Geraldine.

“He didn’t spend a lot of money in life, but he always gave what he could,” she said. “If he took you out to dinner, you had to be quick to snag the ticket or he would pay for it.”

No one in the family, including Nix’s stepmother Martha Jo Childress, knew about his monthly visits to the Geraldine drugstore, she said.

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“We were all amazed, but we knew he was full of kindness,” Nix said.

Her father was an Air Force veteran who had his fair share of hardships, she said, noting that her brother and grandfather were killed during a 1973 tornado.

“It was really tough for him, but he never complained,” Nix said. “He never lost his optimism.”

Childress worked as a product manager for Lockheed Martin in Huntsville until his retirement, she said, but even when he was working he always found time for farming.

“His therapy was sitting on his tractor, and he spent a lot of time helping neighbors plant their gardens,” Nix recalls. “Every time he went to the post office, he brought the postmaster an apple or some yams, pumpkins or okra that he had grown on his farm.”

After Nix’s mother, Peggy Childress, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and eventually unable to walk, Nix said her father spent years caring for her and carrying her to the places she wanted to go.

“Everyone in town remembers my dad carrying her to the top row of the stands to watch the Friday night high school ball games,” she said. “He continued like this until he had heart surgery in 1998 and couldn’t lift her up.”

After Peggy Childress died in 1999, her father found solace on his farm, Nix said, adding that he found love again and remarried about a year later.

“I don’t know exactly what inspired him to bring $100 bills to the pharmacy, but I do know that when my mom was sick, her medications were expensive,” she said. “Maybe that had something to do with it.”

At Hody Childress’s funeral, when people around town found out what he had done for them, they were stunned, Nix said.

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“I’ve heard from people who said they were going through a tough time and their prescriptions were paid for when they picked them up,” she said, recalling one woman who didn’t have $600 for an EpiPen for her son.

“She wrote to me and said she never knew who helped her until my father died,” Nix said. “She said it was a tremendous relief as a mother and she couldn’t thank my dad enough.”

Behind the counter at Geraldine Drugs, Walker heard similar stories.

She recalled when a single mom and her daughter both needed medication that their insurance didn’t cover. When Walker paid for the drug from Childress’ fund and handed the woman the prescription with the receipt attached, she said, the woman broke down in tears.

“She came back a few months later and asked for an upfront payment,” Walker said. “I think Hody sparked that in her heart.”

Walker said she’s honored that Childress trusted her to do the right thing with his $100 bills month after month.

“His kindness motivated me to be a more compassionate person,” she said. “He was just a good old fellow who wanted to bless his church, and he certainly did. He left a legacy of kindness.”

People in Geraldine who hope to keep this legacy going are now dropping by the drugstore with donations of their own, Walker said.

“We call it the Hody Childress Fund, and we will continue to do so as long as the community and Hody’s family want to keep it alive,” she said.

That would be fine with Nix.

“If what he did could touch a person and let them know there’s still good in the world, it’s worth it,” she said. “That’s what my father would have wanted.”

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