Wired for Service
Retired electrician Ralph Lilley has spent the last 17 years volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and has no plans of slowing down.
“Wiring a home is nothing,” Ralph Lilley says. “You can almost do it blindfolded.”
An electrician for 40 years like Lilley can say that with confidence. He didn’t wear a blindfold, though, wiring any homes or buildings and certainly not when he wired portions of the MCI Center, renamed the Capital One Arena, in Washington, D.C. “The bigger the job is, the more I enjoy it,” he says.
Retired since 1998, Lilley spent two years golfing until it wasn’t as much fun anymore. When two other electricians at Brunswick Plantation told him Little River United Methodist Church needed volunteers for Horry County Habitat for Humanity, Lilley didn’t hesitate.
The trio of electricians wired three homes until Horry County Habitat hired licensed contractors to do the electrical work. Lilley enjoyed volunteering, something he says he had never done before, and wanted to continue doing it. He turned to Habitat for Humanity in Brunswick County in 2003 and has wired 54 of its 67 homes.
Lilley says his favorite part of electrical work is roughing the job out because it’s done before dry wall and other permanent connections are made. His least favorite part is hanging fans.
“I’m working over my head,” he says. “Fixtures are so simple, but with fans you have to put the fan blades on upside down and hold the screws and you’re looking up quite a bit. You can almost be eye level with fixtures. With a fan you have to be underneath it.”
Tamara Morales, director of development at Brunswick County’s Habitat, says Lilley is probably the longest-serving volunteer in their organization with 17 years of service.
“Ralph is a leader,” Morales says. “Beyond his skills, Ralph has kept people focused on the work in helping others and not getting involved in gossip or negativity.”
Lilley has one more job to complete, and then he won’t be volunteering as an electrician because Brunswick County Habitat for Humanity is also hiring electrical contractors to do its wiring. He plans to continue at Habitat for Humanity as a volunteer in other areas.
Being an electrician was not the career Lilley planned to pursue. He grew up in Lanham, Maryland, the second of nine children. In 1958, after finishing his three-year stint in the Marines, with 15 months in Japan, he went to the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., with interest in getting a carpenter apprenticeship. He was told apprenticeships were only available in the electrical field, so he said, “I’ll take it.”
He proceeded to be licensed in Montgomery County, Maryland, Alexandria, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and was a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 in D.C.
Lilley, who turns 85 on January 14, 2021, became familiar with the Grand Strand area when he and several friends came on golf outings. He and his wife, Nancy, also vacationed here. “I fell in love with Myrtle Beach, and I knew when I retired this is where I was going to be,” he says.
He and Nancy moved from Reisterstown, Maryland, to Calabash in 1998. They have three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Their sons, Ralph and Michael, are both electricians and live in Maryland with their families. Their daughter, Janet, lives in Charlotte and works in a job that requires traveling. She had brother and sister cats, Teddy and Amy, but had to find someone to care for them while she was gone. Lilley stepped in. “Dear old dad volunteered to take them,” he says.
After moving to Calabash, Lilley developed an interest in gardening but isn’t quite sure of specific names of what he has planted. “I go to Lowe’s and see what looks good and buy them,” he says. “Some things work out, and some things don’t.” In his landscaping he includes a bird bath, lighthouse and a 25-foot flag pole, which he wired to be lighted.
He also became enchanted with the stream, now hidden by trees, that runs behind his home. He began to collect discarded bricks from home sites and proceeded to construct steps to the stream and a 100-yard walkway in front of it. “I can’t sit around and do nothing,” he says. That’s why he decided to continue volunteering.
“As a Marine veteran, member of the Calabash Elks and as a long-time Habitat volunteer, Ralph steadfastly serves the community in which he lives,” Morales says. “He does it expecting nothing in return. This ‘quiet service’ to others is uncommon today. Many people expect something in return for their service. Ralph doesn’t.”
Lilley just volunteers because it feels good to do it.
“The families really appreciate it, and it makes me feel good about it,” Lilley says. “I knew I was doing something that people needed, and I had the time.”
Can you volunteer?
Habitat for Humanity
1323 Stone Chimney Road SW, Supply