Some mornings Tony Douthitt, 53, wakes at 3 a.m. to his 92-year-old mother, Irene Douthitt, standing over him, asking if it's time to go to church. Serving as the sole caretaker to his Mom is one of many obligations in Tony's life.
'I can tell (first thing) when she gets up in the morning if it's gonna be a good day," he says. "We just have that connection, I guess."
After Tony gets his mom tucked into her favorite pink floral chair with the red-checkered electric blanket and the TV turned on low, he heads over to his "baking house" to fix her breakfast. One morning it's fruit, bacon and pancakes, smothered in sticky syrup. The next, two slow-fried eggs kept warm in an oven while he waits on the country ham and homemade biscuits to finish cooking.
"She never complains," says Tony. "She'll eat anything I put in front of her."
As he walks the 20-foot stretch between the house he shares with his mother and the house he bought to serve as his commercial kitchen, tiny paws wind their way between his feet. He opens a can of wet cat food for Missy, the vagrant cat that sleeps in the garbage can on his back porch. He's pretty sure she's expecting kittens. You can hear her loud, contented purrs from the kitchen, as Tony finally gets down to the passion that has followed him throughout his life: baking.
Tony has been baking cakes for the past 36 years. It began as a hobby he discovered when he was a teenager. Some may call it an uncommon pastime for a 16-year-old boy, but for Tony it was natural. As he puts it, "If you have something you like doing, it's not a job."
Shenna Moore, 39, has been buying Tony's cakes for almost a decade. She says that her kids have, "legit meltdowns if they have anything but a Tony cake," for their birthdays.
Recently Tony made a Mickey Mouse cake for a 3-year-old's birthday party. The boy's grandmother texted him later that day to report her grandson loved the cake so much, he didn't want to cut it.
For Tony, a trip to the grocery store is never just "a trip to the grocery store." It's a social commitment. He can't turn a corner without running into someone he knows. During one holiday-season trip to Walmart, he didn't make it past the entryway. After two hours of visiting in the store's foyer, he decided to turn around and go home without purchasing anything.
Tony is so well loved in his community, people regularly ask when he plans to make his run for mayor. Even the current mayor, Gary Williamson, says he'll vote for Tony if he ever runs.
Despite all that, Tony really only has room in his life for three passios: his mom, his baking and his church.
Every Sunday, Tony sings in the men's group choir at the First Baptist Church in Winchester. He says church is where he is able to enjoy moments of peace. But it's also where he finds a different community. He is in constant contact with his fellow parishioners, texting and calling frequently throughout the day. At the end of the day, Tony says he lets a simple mantra guide him. "My thing is, you be nice to other people, they'll be nice to you."