As the line crews gather every morning at
Tideland Electric Membership Corporation, after the joking and the chitchat but before the safety messages and the job assignments, a hush falls on the room for the daily prayer.
It’s a plea to a higher power to let everyone go home safe and sound at quitting time. And until he retired a couple months ago, it was given by Fred Hackney, a 45-year lineworker for the co-op based in Pantego, North Carolina. Hackney’s got a way with prayerful words because he’s been an ordained pastor almost as long as he’s worked on the Tideland lines.
“Every morning before we go out and go to work, we have prayer,” Hackney says, reflecting on his dual career as the more worldly one was drawing to a close. “We put God first every day, and we ask God to watch over us as we do our job.”
Hackney was just 19 years old in the fall of 1974 when he signed on as a lineworker at Tideland.
“I was just looking for a job, and they were hiring,” he remembers. “I learned how to climb poles and made up my mind that I wanted to be a lineman.”
And that was enough, for a while. Hackney wasn’t a wild kid, but he wasn’t a man of God back then either. When he felt the first stirrings of the call, he resisted.
“I got saved at a revival,” he says. “And God just called me to the ministry. God spoke to me and said, ‘I want you to go out and preach the word.’ I said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But he just whupped me and whupped me, so I went to school to be ordained.”
Hackney says his colleagues in the crews seemed to appreciate working with someone who’s in close touch with God.
“I guess they feel safer having a preacher with them.”
Tideland’s members appeared to be happy with a pastor on the lines, as well. Hackney has served as a guest preacher at many of their churches, making him a familiar face around the service territory for more than one reason.
“They just know who I am because I’ve been at the co-op for 45 years,” he says. “A lot of people, when they see me, they say, ‘Hey, Rev, how’re you doing?’ They know about me. Some of them know me, and I don’t even know them.”
One part of his double career hit Hackney hard, though. As a pastor, he’s officiated at plenty of weddings, baptisms, and other joyous occasions, but he’s also been called upon for the saddest ones: funerals. Co-workers have asked him to conduct final services for their family members, but last summer’s request from a dying coworker was deeply personal.
Pam Tetterton was a well-loved Tideland member service representative for more than 20 years. She was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2018 and fought the disease into remission by the following winter. But she suffered a relapse in spring 2019.
She was in hospice care last summer when Hackney paid her a visit.
“She said, ‘I want you to preach my funeral,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t want to preach your funeral. I want you to live.’ I loved her, and I thought a lot of Pam.
“And she thought that much of me that she wanted me to do her funeral. It’s just something I have to do, whether I like it or not.”
Other challenges cut a broader swath. In 45 years at a co-op on the Eastern Seaboard, Hackney has worked his way through the aftermath of a lot of bad storms. And the hurricanes weren’t done with him as he neared the end of his career; just months before his retirement date, Hurricane Dorian brought widespread outages and flooding.
Once again, his faith and his calling enabled Hackney to remain calm in the face of disaster.
“When you come through the storms, everything works in God’s plan,” he says in his rolling Carolina drawl. “You’re going to have troubles, you’re going to have trials. But even if you lost your home, you haven’t lost your life.”
Now that he’s retired, restoring power after a storm is someone else’s worry. But as he prepared to leave the line work behind, Hackney was planning to start a new chapter in his other job.
“I’m going to open up a church,” he says. “I enjoyed being a lineman, and I miss it.
“But it’s time for me to let it go and spend the rest of my life serving God.”