Do you remember Larry?
I will never forget him and neither will thousands of others.
In the last thirty five years, if you spent any time in the west village on a day above 25 degrees, you are likely to have crossed paths with Larry. He is the subject of the short documentary, an Academy Award nominee in 2002, The Collector of Bedford Street, by Alice Elliott. The film took him all over the world with the help of his dear friends, and he received a Caring Award, shared with Colin Powell in 2009. He was a beloved neighbor to many and last night was his memorial. He died this past January at seventy years old.
Larry spent most of his time collecting money for his favorite charities, usually one dollar at a time. Day after day, year after year, the last few with an attendant at his wheelchair side, he called out to passer-bys and caught them coming and going. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” he said, repeatedly in a loud and high pitched command. Only if one was closed down, could Larry be ignored.
The first time he asked me for money, I gave him a dollar. Five minutes later, I walked by again and he asked for more, with no recollection of our previous exchange. In a hurry, I ignored him. And I saw lots of people ignore or insult him. It pains me to admit this. But it didn’t take long to come around and understand what this developmentally disabled man was doing for the world: taking care.
A man who spoke last night said that he would be rich if it weren’t for Larry. Others shared that they kept one dollar bills in their pockets so that he wouldn’t see any bigger denominations but those very people gave frequently: money and their absolute support.
When his beloved uncle died, Larry’s independence and financial security were gone. All his giving came back in the form of a trust that was developed and supported by about one hundred people in the neighborhood. Life was not easy for him but it was charmed, especially toward the end. Larry possessed a capacity for great love and he attracted the love of many who came to know him. His kind actions created a community of supporters, neighbors who might not otherwise know each other, all who united for the good of Larry’s vast humanity. He was a teacher of goodness and it fills me with poignancy to know that in a very small way, I took my lessons from him and gave to his charities and his personal trust.