Bill Birdsong, 77, loses battle with cancer

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

FRANKLIN—The man who led Birdsong Peanuts’ Franklin operation for nearly 40 years died Saturday at Sentara Virginia Beach Hospital after a four-month bout with prostate cancer.

William “Bill” McLemore Birdsong Jr. was 77.

George Birdsong, chief executive officer for Birdsong Peanuts, called his older brother’s death a devastating blow to the family.

“We knew he had prostate cancer problems, but we didn’t expect it to spread to other vital organs,” the 72-year-old said. “(This) is a deep loss (to the company). He was on the board so he will be missed.”

The middle child of Yancey Birdsong of Suffolk and the late William McLemore Birdsong Sr., Bill Birdsong moved to Franklin shortly after being assigned to manage the operation here.

A Clay Street resident, he twice served as chairman of the board for High Street United Methodist Church in Franklin. Bill Birdsong also served as a trustee of the Franklin-Southampton United Way, was a member and past president of the Franklin Rotary Club, and served on the board of directors for the Cypress Cove Country Club, Virginia Crop Improvement Association, Franklin Industrial Authority Board and Southampton Memorial Hospital.

“Bill was a great friend to the United Way,” said Anne Bryant, executive director for the Franklin-Southampton United Way. “I didn’t know him until I got the job with the United Way (in 2006), but once I met Bill, we would pass in the post office and he never failed to stop and speak and see how things were going with the United Way. We will certainly miss him.”

Tom Riddick, who manages the Franklin plant for Birdsong, knew Bill Birdsong through the business and family.

“My family grew up (around them) and I went to school with his son, Everett,” Riddick said. “I’ve been in peanuts for several years and I knew him through the business. My family used to own The Peanut Patch and we used to buy peanuts from him.”

Married to his wife, Dale, for 54 years, Bill Birdsong graduated from Suffolk High School in 1952 and Randolph Macon College in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In 1957, he started working for Birdsong Peanuts. In 1964 he began working in the Franklin office, and in 1966 became the vice president of the company for 28 years.