Although they've stayed in contact for the past 20 years, talking every few months or so, the pair had never met in person until last week's Thanksgiving holiday.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 2, 2021. It has since been updated.
Gladys Hankerson of Delray Beach, Florida, was trying to reach her sister in Maryland one day, about two decades ago, when she misdialed the phone number and heard a stranger's voice on the other end. "At first, it was just like her saying, 'Oh I'm sorry!' and she's really Southern, very hospitable, polite, very sweet, she's like, 'I'm so sorry, child!' and then she hangs up real quick," Mike Moffitt from Rhode Island—who answered the call—told NBC News about the start of what has since turned out to be a lasting, over-the-phone friendship.
Hankerson, who is now 81 years old, continued to call Moffitt multiple times as instead of her sister's area code of 410, she kept dialing 401. "It continually happened where she accidentally dialed the wrong number, but it eventually switched to just calling to say hi," 47-year-old Moffitt, who lives in South Kingstown, told CNN. Eventually, he decided to stop her from hanging up the phone so quickly and asked her who she was and where she was from. "I was like, 'Hey, if you're going to keep calling, let's chat,'" Moffitt said. "It was at first her misdialing. Then I think she just started calling, not misdialing."
Moffitt worked in a call center at the time and said he wasn't too bothered by being on the phone. Especially since talking to Hankerson was like a breath of fresh air compared to his usual calls, he said. Their phone calls proved comforting for both as each was going through the pain of losing loved ones. Hankerson was divorced and had just lost her son when she first started talking to Moffitt. "During that time, I was downhearted, and he (Mike) felt my sympathy and everything -- lifted me up," she said. Moffitt had lost his grandparents around the same time and Hankerson filled that void for him.
For Hankerson, Moffitt felt like family. "He's a very nice person," she said. "I love him to death." Although their phone calls started as casual conversations, their friendship grew much deeper over the years. "She had her son call at one time to let me know that somebody close to her passed away. He was like, 'My mom just wanted me to call and let you know,'" Moffit said. "All of a sudden [our relationship] became not like a superficial check-in call... I understood what it meant to her."
Although they've stayed in contact for the past 20 years, talking every few months or so, the pair had never met in person until Thanksgiving in 2021 when Moffitt decided to surprise Hankerson at her home in Delray Beach while on a trip to Florida with his wife and children. "The reason we ended up meeting was because a drawbridge was up," Moffitt said. "We waited 10-15 minutes at a drawbridge, and eventually decided to keep going. That's when I realized we were 2 miles away from Gladys' house." He knocked on Hankerson's door with some flowers for her and she welcomed him with open arms.
"I walked in and said, 'Gladys, it's Mike from Rhode Island!' and she said, 'Oh, my friend Mike! I'm blessed,' and threw her arms up," Moffitt said. Remembering the day she finally met her friend of over two decades, Hankerson said: "I said, 'Mike!' I froze. He made my day. Yes, yes. I hugged him, he hugged me and we took a picture. He's very nice. In the world these days, you don't meet too many nice people."