Andrew Dys

Rock Hill couple with overdue utility bill struggles to survive the heat; community responds

At age 75, after more than half of those years working at a dry cleaner in the hottest job outside of a furnace, Shirley Mclean still works when she can.

She worked Thursday – on a day outdoor temperatures approached 100 degrees.

How did she get to work?

She walked. Mclean and her husband have no car.

“I fell out,” Mclean said of what happened when it was so hot Thursday when she tried to work.

She was taken to the hospital, told to stay hydrated and cool, then went home to the house she and her husband have rented for decades. The home is tiny, weathered.

Her house Friday was about as hot inside as the 97 degrees outside, where the heat index was, according to the National Weather Service, a staggering 105 degrees.

“I would guess 103 inside because we keep it so dark,” she said.

In the chair near her sat her husband of 43 years, Grady Mclean. Grady is retired, worn out after a lifetime of construction and handyman work.

“That was after I left the farm work,” said Grady Mclean. “I worked.”

On a table is a plaque for Grady’s service to Boyd Hill Baptist Church.

The couple has no children.

They survive on Social Security and prayer.

An ancient air conditioner hums, but what air it does churn can be called “cool” if the air being blown is cooler than the 103-degree air in the house.

“We are about to burn up,” said Shirley Mclean.

The tiny house is two small bedrooms, a living room with an ancient oil furnace in it, and a kitchen.

An older brother of Shirley’s stays in the extra room.

A knock comes at the door, and a child arrives with an empty styrofoam cup, the largest soft drink cup from a fast-food place.

“Come in,” said Shirley Mclean.

Then, Shirley Mclean who has almost nothing to spare, went and filled up the cup with ice, so the child could cool off somebody else.

“You have to help somebody if they need it,” Shirley said. “You are welcome, honey.”

Then she showed her utility bill from the city of Rock Hill. This is a city that builds $32 million buildings to house the utility department and its trucks, and has raised utility rates for 10 years in a row, at least, on people such as Shirley Mclean.

The city in that same decade has built soccer fields for another $12 million, and spent more than $70,000 on a water trough, and even more on pictures of old cars for a parking deck.

There were an armada of people from the city of Rock Hill at a soccer tournament on the other side of the city Thursday and Friday, worrying about how those people at the games played on fields of green grass watered by taxpayer money and cut by taxpayer money and lit by taxpayer money. Many more volunteered to help keep the hot cool at the soccer fields.

Nobody volunteered to work for Shirley Mclean at the dry cleaner, and nobody volunteered to help pay her bill that goes up each year.

Shirley Mclean’s electricity bill read a staggering $237.27.

That bill is for two months for two people who barely scrape by on Social Security and who are so broke that the wife, at age 75, presses somebody else’s clothes in incredible heat to try to survive.

Not a single light is on in the house, to save money.

The due date read July 23.

Friday was July 27.

So the other part of the bill said “delinquent notice!”

Another notice, expected next week, will have the words “disconnect” and a date when the power will be shut off.

Shirley was asked how she would pay the bill before disconnection, how she would survive in the heat, and her answer was, “We have to find a way.”

Follow up

The generosity of the people of York County shined through Saturday, just hours after The Herald ran a story about an elderly couple struggling with extreme heat and high utility bills.

By noon Saturday more than 70 people had offered to help Shirley and Grady Mclean of Rock Hill.

Shirley Mclean still works part-time at a dry cleaner and her husband is disabled after a lifetime of manual labor. They were struggling without air conditioning and facing disconnection of their electricity. Shirley Mclean had even passed out from the heat Thursday while trying to make a few dollars to augment the couple’s Social Security check that sometimes does not stretch enough to pay all the bills.

A new air conditioner was installed, and the city of Rock Hill utility bill of $237.27 was taken by a lady who vowed to pay it Monday when the city offices open. More people offered donations to pay the bill ahead of time, and for other expenses and food.

“People have just been so kind,” Shirley Mclean said. “People, they got such big hearts. They are super.”

Yes, Shirley, Herald readers do have big hearts. When someone is in need, they act and act fast. And each one of those persons declined to have a name published for the generosity, because as one reader said while standing outside the Mclean home: “The words I live by are ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ “