Note: This story was updated at 4:27 p.m. July 20.
Joseph Dillman, a Clinton boy who inspired the community with his battle against brain cancer, died Saturday. He was 10.
Joseph had earned the love and admiration of many people from across the country. It was his second battle against brain cancer.
Joseph had been made an honorary firefighter and honorary Clinton police officer. For his 10th birthday in January, he received more than 100 pounds of birthday mail and gifts from well-wishers across the country, including Peyton Manning and Johnny Majors.
“Joseph Dillman was such a fun-loving kid and put up a hard fight to beat cancer,” family friend Tiffany Taylor said on a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with funeral expenses. “Unfortunately, little Joseph’s fight ended yesterday morning with his family by his side.”
There was a candlelight prayer service for Joseph on July 11 in Clinton. Joseph was unable to attend, so supporters brought the event to him. Members of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department—along with local law enforcement, fire departments, and Emergency Medical Services—drove by Joseph’s house with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
“Joseph, you have all of our love, support, and prayers!” the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department said after the prayer service. “We’ve got your back.”
Joseph led the Clinton High School football team onto the field during a home game last season, and he had received several other designations and accolades. In June, the Second Annual Joseph Dillman Lawn Mower Race was held in honor of Joseph. It was organized by Clinton Police Officer Jason Stokes.
Clinton Police Chief Rick Scarbrough has posted his memories about Joseph on the Clinton Police Department’s Facebook page. There are pictures of Joseph on a trip to Mr. Gatti’s with Clinton police officers.
“These officers, as well as several others, were always taking Joseph on trips like this,” Scarbrough said. “On the surface, it would appear that they were treating Joseph to some great times (and they were!). Actually, Joseph was giving them the gift. To watch these big men with Joseph was very heart-warming! A great example of the love Joseph brought to our community.”
The Anderson County Sheriff’s Department has posted a picture of dozens of emergency and county vehicles lined up for the July 11 prayer service in Clinton, as well as a video of emergency vehicles driving past Joseph’s house.
A link to Joseph’s obituary and information about funeral arrangements have been posted on the Pray for Joseph Dillman page on Facebook.
Oak Ridge Deputy Fire Chief Josh Waldo said Joseph was made an honorary firefighter a few years ago at his birthday party.
“Many people often associate the word hero with firefighters for the work they do,” Waldo said. “If you look up the definition of hero you will find the following: ‘a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.’
“Having met thousands of firefighters in my time, I have found none who meet this definition anymore than Joseph. During his five-year battle, I never heard Joseph ask why me or say that life wasn’t fair. We all could learn from this amazing young man about what’s really important in life. Rest easy, Joseph, for your work here is done. Thank you for showing me and hopefully many others what a true hero is.”
Joseph was a fourth-grade basketball player who had attended South Clinton Elementary School before he was homebound. He was a Florida Gators fan who loved “The Dukes of Hazzard” television show.
“He has every episode,” his mother, Mary Dillman of Clinton, said during his 10th birthday party at Claxton Elementary School in January.
Mary Dillman said Joseph was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, and the medduloblastoma returned in May 2014.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we share that one of our special little students, Joseph Dillman, passed away,” Clinton City Schools said in a Facebook post on Sunday, July 16. “Please keep his family and his many friends in your thoughts and prayers as people young and old struggle with the grief of Joseph’s death.”
Stan Ferguson, owner of The Mail Center in Oak Ridge, said organizers presented Joseph with 124 pounds of mail and gifts at his January birthday party. The mail came from across the country— including Alaska, California, Maine, and Texas—and local organizations like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex. About 95 percent of the 1,500 birthday cards printed by The Mail Center were returned to Joseph.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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