Coal Tattoo

Fallen miner: ‘He loved his family so much’

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Michelle McKinney holding a photograph of her mother Edith Willingham, father Benny Willingham and their grandson McQuade Canada.

Here’s a dispatch from my friend and coworker Gary Harki, who is at the site:

May was going to be a big month for Benny Willingham.
On May 13 he was planning on working his last day in the Upper Big Branch Mine-South.

The next day he would have turned 65. And before the end of the month, he had a cruise scheduled that he’d already bought and paid for, said Michelle McKinney, Willingham’s daughter.

But those plans vanished Monday when Willingham lost his life in the Massey Energy Mine.

“I was at my son’s baseball game and got a phone call from my mom that it was my dad’s mine,” McKinney said.

She said she rushed to her mom’s house to be with her family, expecting to hear word from Massey officials on whether her father was still alive.

“We sat and we sat and we sat. We are still waiting on that phone call,” she said.

The family found out that Willingham was one of the seven miners that died on the mantrip through a friend of his sister’s, she said. The friend got the original list of seven miners and found Willingham’s name on it.

“We did not get a call from the big dogs down here,” she said.
Willingham took care of his wife, Edith, who has diabetes, is blind and very sick, she said.

“He loved his family so much,” she said. “And the lord. … We know where he’s at but we want him back.”

Willingham rode with two of his coworkers to the mine every day, McKinney said. One of the two also died on the mantrip, another survived and is at CAMC General, she said. Willingham’s family has talked to the miner several times over night from the hospital, she said.

“He’s doing really good,” she said.