Readers of Up & Coming Weekly have likely encountered Pitt Dickey’s funny and sometimes outlandish biweekly opinion column. He has a knack for combining Greek mythology, random factoids, quotes from old T.V. commercials, politics and social commentary in a way that leaves readers chuckling and, on occasion, slightly bewildered.
Dickey is more than just a funny writer, though. He’s an attorney who specializes in advocating for people in need of Social Security disability benefits. He became a partner with Smith, Dickey & Dempster P.A. in 1978 and has been working Social Security disability cases for more than 35 years.
“There’s very little funny in disability,” he said of his career. “There are a lot of people that need help.”
While Dickey likes to poke fun at authority in his column, that strategy connects to a serious ideology. “(Authority bothers me) when it squishes the little people,” he said. “The poor and the sick don’t have that much of a lobbying ability like big pharma.
“Representing people with Social Security disability, basically I’m representing people who the government says are not sick enough to get disability benefits.
“I say they are, and then we have a hearing, and the judge decides for us.”
In a seeming paradox, Pitt said he knew he wanted to be a lawyer as a child because he wanted to know what the rules were. As an adult, he said, he still believes in the importance of rules.
“If we don’t follow the rules, then it’s whoever’s strongest gets to eat the weak people. These folks I represent in disability cases, they’re at the end of their rope. They have no money, and they have no insurance for the most part, unless they’re military. And I can use the rules to help them.”
In 1996, Dickey was working both Social Security disability and family law cases, which he described as “the equivalent of being a legal proctologist.” He needed an outlet, and he’d taken several English classes as an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the early ’70s.
Back to 1996. Dickey ran into Bill Bowman, who had recently become the new owner of Up & Coming Weekly, at Haymont Grill. Dickey asked if he could write a column for the paper.
Dickey’s only foray into published humorous writing at that point was an opinion piece he’d written during his adolescent years at Seventy-First High School. The topic? The lunchroom. The entire edition of that school newspaper was recalled. “You can’t poke fun at the school lunchroom,” is what he learned.
Back again to 1996. “(Bill) said sure, send one in, and I did. And the rest is history.
“The column in Up & Coming Weekly allows me to poke at the powers that be. … You can’t go out and make people do things, but if you point out that what they’re doing is ridiculous, that might in some way change things. Authority doesn’t like humor.”
Ultimately, he said, he also just genuinely enjoys entertaining people. The key to both his writing process and to understanding his articles, he said, is “the drinking of coffee. Then everything makes sense.”
Since 1998, Dickey has also written a monthly column covering various need-to-know subjects for Social Security disability claimants. It appears online at www.seniormag.com and in several local publications.
He’s been married for more than 40 years to Lani Dickey, a longtime educator at FTCC who recently retired.
“We met on the steps of the institute of government on the first day of law school (at UNC),” he said. “She was a Davidson and I was a Dickey, and we were lined up in alphabetical order. Isn’t that beautiful? If she’d been a Smith, who knows?”
Photo: Pitt Dickey