By Mason Editor Beth Grace
Little Charles grew up with 325 brothers and sisters, and he still loves every last one of them.
Charles Edward Dickerson Jr. was just a toddler when he, his little brother and their two sisters moved into the old Oxford Orphanage, an institution that would become the safe haven of his childhood, the foundation of his life’s work and the perfect model for his adult life.
Eddie Dickerson will retire at year’s end, capping a 50-plus year career in the printing industry and 18 years at the Masonic Home for Children’s School of Graphic Arts – better known by his 34,000-plus brothers in NC Freemasonry as the “Print Shop.”
It wasn’t an easy – or expected – decision to retire. Eddie says that the loss of a good friend and fellow alumnus of MHCO and the time he has spent at home during the pandemic made him think about time – and the limited nature of it. Life is short and he wants to spend as much as he can with family and friends, not consumed by things that don’t seem so pressing in light of the way the world is right now.
“Someone told me you shouldn’t retire without a plan. Right now, I have no plan other than to decompress,” he says. “I’m not somebody to sit on the couch for long, so I’ll get busy. But not for a while. I do plan to do some traveling with my wife Pamela, which we enjoy.”
He alerted friends via Facebook in July and the good wishes have been coming in ever since. He was honored by the MHCO Board of Directors at its quarterly meeting in November. His last official day is Dec. 31.
Eddie remembers little of his life before arriving in Oxford, where he was cared for by loving adults and surrounded by hundreds of good kids just like him.
He knows only that when he was almost 2, his life changed forever. His father, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, shot and killed his mother. His grandparents were unable to take all four children in, but with some guidance from the Freemasons in Surry County – who reached out to help, as small-town folks will when a neighbor’s in trouble -- found shelter and a family at the Oxford Orphanage.
Little Charles “quickly fell in love with Oxford. You tend to forget anything bad that happened before because you’re just so busy at the home, with new friends and things to do.”
He recalls that he and his siblings learned the lessons of life at Oxford. “There were days of laughter and days of tears, days I wished I had a mother to hold me and a father to scold me, but there was never a day I didn’t wonder if this new life in Oxford would lead us in the right direction.”
He was taught the trade of printing on campus by Allen Colenda, a man he considers to this day as his “father figure” during his growing years.
Upon graduating from the home, he attended NC State University. He went on to manage print operations at Fails Management Institute and Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. He was also owner of Watermark Graphics in Apex. He joined the School 18 years ago and became manager in 2004.
Eddie was raised as a Master Mason at Cary #198 in 1984 and joined Oxford #122 in 2006.
“There was never a question that I would not be a Mason,” he says. “I always knew that I would give back to the brothers who gave so much to me and my family.
“This is as much of a Masonic story as it is an Eddie story,” he says. “Masons have always been here to keep this home open and afloat.”
He will miss the people, but not the stress of the work.
He will miss spending his days in the place that became his home. But he will never be far away.
“You can take me out of Oxford but you can’t take Oxford out of me,” he says.
The MHCO family will miss Eddie.
“He will be greatly missed and we are thankful for his service and wish him the very best in his retirement. Even though I didn't physically grow up at the Home, because of people like Eddie, I can call it my home away from home,” said PGM Dewey Preslar, chairman of the MHCO board. “God's peace to my dear friend and brother.”