We called him Methuselah. He called my husband Jesus. Even with his long hair and beard, Keith is not as much like Jesus as Billy was like Methuselah.
The man from the Bible was the oldest man to have ever lived, reaching the ripe old age of 969. Now, Billy Dillard wasn’t that old, but it did seem that he had been around about that long. Maybe that’s because for years he seemed to show up everywhere, at least if it had anything to do with the Coastal Carolina Chrysalis community.
If you don’t know about it, Chrysalis is a three-day crash course in Christianity for teenagers, where participants come in as “caterpillars” and then leave as “butterflies” as they are transformed by Christ. Hence, the Chrysalis name. Billy helped to cofound organization more than two decades ago and served on its board as its longtime registrar. He supported the youth organization with his time, money and talents. For more than 20 years, he also led Billy’s Boys, a weekly Chrysalis reunion group for young guys.
He had a biting sense of humor, and he loved using it. He loved to park his car anywhere. He particularly liked to park in front of a sign that urged, “Hey, you can’t park here.” Billy parked there anyway. You could count on it.
But more than anything, Billy Dillard made sure you knew God loved you and that he loved you, too. And I will confess. When I was a leader of one of the Chrysalis weekends in March of 2013, seeing that old man’s face light up when me and the girls walked through the doors for the closing ceremony is something I cherish. Yeah, that old man was there, where he always was. And I ran up and kissed him, overcome with joy from spending three days in a Christian community focusing on God. And seeing him there at the end of it, supporting us like he always did, made me know that the spiritual high doesn’t have to end when we go back into the “real” world. And Billy was the real world.
The 79-year-old died from lung cancer in the spring of 2014, peacefully at his home, with his family at his side.
And while there is no one quite like Billy Dillard, his legacy in the Chrysalis movement still lives on. Billy’s daughter, Kelly Covington, is, and has been, a giver of God’s love and grace. A longtime Chrysalis servant and supporter herself, Kelly reminds me that as much as her father is known for being the backbone of Chrysalis, the youth Christian retreat is much bigger than Billy.
“A lot of people think dad was Chrysalis,” she said. “It’s the other way around. Chrysalis is dad.”
Billy was a leader in the community and served in many ways that no one ever saw. He still, however, got more from serving than he gave.
“He gained so much from Chrysalis. People don’t understand that,” Kelly said. “Dad would be the first one to tell people, he would tell you adamantly that he got more from it than those kids.”
Kelly knows her dad will always be missed.
“Anytime anybody passes, there’s a void,” she said. “Everybody misses him.”
She’s right. We miss Billy. We miss the smart remarks. We miss the huge smile. We miss the way he made us feel.
“That’s the kind of void” he left, Kelly said, “for his person, his personality.”
And no matter how much Billy did for the Chrysalis community, and it was a lot, it will continue.
“A great leader prepares the people who are following him,” Kelly said of her dad.
Kelly told me that Billy did a lot of delegating. That is something I’m working on myself. Billy’s Boys, although it began informally with about three boys, blossomed into a group that literally had hundreds of young men pass through Billy’s doors over the past two decades. But Billy’s Boys grew into something so much more. It has golf tournament and barbecue fundraisers to give area needy families gifts at Christmas. That started with one family and has grown to many more. It has created Patrick’s Closet, which works with area schools to stock clothes, coats, school supplies and anything else needed. The name memorializes Patrick Henry, a Billy’s Boy who died in a car accident. The goal of the group is to have a Patrick’s Closet in at least every elementary and middle school in the Conway area.
The individual Billy’s Boys leading these events and charities are some of the first participants to attend a Chrysalis weekend. In a story I wrote for the Myrtle Beach Herald, I tell you about of some of Billy’s girls. Well...it’s more like it’s God’s Girls. Just like the guys are God’s Guys. Those young ladies were happy to share their Chrysalis experience because it meant so much to them. Sarah and Miranda are awesome young women. Both are in college now and are giving back, Sarah at Charleston Southern University and Miranda at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. I like what Kelly calls this giving back, mentoring, delegating and pouring into the lives of others.
“The great pyramid scheme” she says.
Only it’s not about selling something, but giving it away and watching it grow and multiply.
“It’s the same thing Jesus did,” Kelly said. “He helped 12 people and 2,000 years later, we’re still talking about it.”
Yes. I like that. Be like Billy. No, don’t park illegally. And please don’t smoke. But do invest in the lives of the people around you. That can be done through the Chrysalis community.
I think Kelly put it in perspective when she said, “Chrysalis moves people from thinking about themselves all the time to what God is thinking about.”
That is exactly what I’m seeking to do myself.
The folks of Chrysalis are in particular need of male alumni (of Chrysalis or its adult counterpart, Emmaus) to step up and be group leaders for newly-christened male Chrysalis participants. Of course, they’ll also take your money, your time and your talents. But you don’t have to go through Chrysalis or any organization. Mentor somebody - your own children, your employees - anybody.
“Just get plugged in,” Kelly shared. “Do something for somebody. Find God and help somebody. We could have heaven on earth.”