‘My prayer is people will take this serious’: Winston-Salem family battles COVID-19, loses family member


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — At 90-year olds old, Richard Calkins had lived an adventurous life.

He served in Germany during WWII, stayed for the clean up operations, witnessed the Nuremberg trials, spent a month and a half traveling Alaska by himself in a camper and spent 63 amazing years with his wife Ruth. 

Calkins also became the first person to die from COVID-19 in Forsyth County. 

“Richard was a proud man, and he didn’t think this would get him,” his nephew John Wayne Lambeth explained one week after his death. “He really didn’t think this would affect him.”

Calkins was the fourth person in this Winston-Salem family to contract the virus. 

On March 14, Lambeth became the first person to feel symptoms of the coronavirus.

“You ache so bad, you have a fever. I had a fever of 103…I was huddled up under blankets and just couldn’t get warm,” Lambeth said.

It was his birthday that day, which he described as the beginning to the torment that followed.  

On March 15, his daughter began showing symptoms. On March 16, so did his son-in-law. 

“You don’t think it’s going to happen to you, and then boom you got it. You hear people dying from coronavirus then you start thinking ‘am I going to be next?’ It’s a good thing my two little granddaughters didn’t catch it. That’s a miracle. I thank God for that,” Lambeth said.

After they took tests for COVID-19, the results came back positive. But by that time, Lambeth’s uncle Calkins became symptomatic. 

“We had all stayed away, so…I really don’t know where he got it. I don’t even know where I got it,” Lambeth said.

Calkins was taken to Forsyth Medical Center on March 27 after experiencing a series of falls at home. Once he was admitted, doctors tested him for the coronavirus. 

Within 24 hours, the results came back confirming he had the virus. 

Lambeth, still coming down from the sickness, was shocked.

He spoke with his uncle on Sunday. 

“I said hurry up and get better. We gotta go find some places to eat…they was giving him breathing. Oxygen. He sounded okay, but he didn’t sound okay on the phone. You can tell it was him but not him,” Lambeth said.

Less than 24 hours later, Calkins passed away from coronavirus. 

The news was hard for Lambeth to hear, but even more difficult to explain to Calkins’ wife, Ruth. 

She had dementia and is currently staying in an assisted living facility. Lambeth had to share the news to her through the telephone while standing on the other side of a window.

“That’s when I started to break down,” Lambeth said. “I guess, if there is a silver lining, she won’t remember it tomorrow.”

While Lambeth and his family have fully recovered from COVID-19, they are unable to grieve together as a family with the rest of their members. 

Once the threat of coronavirus has reduce, they plan to hold a memorial to honor Calkins.

Until that time, Lambeth wants their pain to be a warning sign for others. 

“My prayer is people will take this serious. And stay away. If you gotta go to the food store that’s one thing…stay at home until this nasty thing gets over with,” Lambeth said.

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