Dick and Phillis Fortney are shown at Rainbow's End Floral. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
KINGSPORT — On a cold January day, Dick Fortney had parked his truck in the back alley to pick up another load after finishing his first set of deliveries.
It was three weeks until Valentine’s Day, a busy day for Rainbow’s End Floral shop, which he and his wife, Phillis, own together. The company had more than 90 orders and a lot of work ahead of them. Dick was in a back office when the unthinkable happened: He suffered a stroke.
Luckily, Phillis was with him when the stroke happened and called the paramedics quickly. The last thing on the family’s mind was work.
“When you’re in tragedy, you never think ahead to assign other people things,” said Wayne Fortney, son of Dick and Phillis. “Obstacles show up and you just handle them.”
During the family’s darkest hour, the community of Kingsport shined brightly for them.
Almost immediately, members from the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce began contacting the family to offer help. In fact, the Chamber wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“The mayor and a few of the aldermen insisted that they as a community help us pick up the slack during a busy holiday,” Wayne said. “Fifteen volunteers showed up, some we knew real well and some we didn’t know well, and they just wanted to help.”
The Chamber of Commerce wasn’t the only organization to step up and help out. The Kingsport Conventions and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Kingsport Association and various other organizations and individuals also helped.
The Fortney family had helped out in the community before. When someone needed help or prayers, the family would step up. They had never asked for help before or had been in the position to need it, but when the time came the support for them was almost overwhelming.
“We are grateful to be in this community,” Wayne said. “No words can adequately say thank you for what this community has done for us.”
Dick and Phillis moved to Kingsport over 20 years ago. Originally from Pittsburgh, they made their way to the area because Dick sold coal mining equipment and Kingsport was the perfect central location.
Before they moved to Kingsport, Phillis had worked in a flower shop and the two had a goal to open their own floral shop within five years, but then they were transferred to a new town.
“We kept saving and planning and at the end of the five years we decided to give it a try,” Phillis said. “And this town has been very good to us. ... We didn’t know people and we decided to try it. All we could do was give our best and see what happens, and 20 years later, here we are.”
Through months of hard work and therapy, Dick is now able to stand and walk around. He is even doing some paperwork around the floral shop, although Phillis doesn’t want him overexerting himself and setting his progress back. If it was up to him, he would have been back at work yesterday.
Sometimes Dick can be seen on the sidewalk or in the street working the right side of his body, trying to regain what his body could do before the stroke.
He still has trouble. He experiences stops when speaking or his right hand will jump while writing. It can frustrate him sometimes, but he knows he has to keep working. He has come too far to give up now.
Through it all, he and his family remain grateful to the reaction of the community during their time of need.
“You know, people always come up and say, ‘I’m praying for you,’ or ‘I’m thinking about you,’” Dick said, as tears formed in his eyes. “To be on that side, it means a lot. You feel it working. It’s special, this is special.”