Wednesday, August 11, 2004

So long, Rick!!

I have always reached out to homeless people and people that seem alone. I feel guilty that I have a warm house and a family to spend my holidays with and want to bring the strays home to share the warmth (which sometimes gets me in trouble). I was touched by a man I saw in Oak Harbor on a daily basis. Rick. He was a gentle man and very nice. I would always smile and say hello to him whenever I saw him. One day I bought some fried chicken at Albertson's and they had a special on legs and thighs, 8 pieces for $2.99. I only wanted thighs, but if I bought 4 thighs I'd have to pay more than the 8 pieces. So I bought the 8 pieces and gave the legs to Rick sitting outside the store. He smiled and thanked me! He was not an alcoholic or addict, he just gave up on life after losing his business and his 10 year fight with cancer. I am glad I put a smile on his face whenever I saw him. You never know what a smile and a kind gesture could do to a person's day!
I heard of his death today and shed a tear and said a prayer for him. Here is the article that is in todays Whidbey News Times:

Phyllis just sent me this picture of Rick's Bench!

City misses Rick, its homeless man
By Jessie Stensland
Oak Harbor is mourning the death of a homeless man who few people knew well but who brought a smile into the lives of many on a daily basis. Richard Edward Pratt, who most knew as “Rick,” died early Friday morning at Whidbey General Hospital, after being transported there the previous evening by ambulance from the Oak Harbor streets he called home. He died from complications of cancer. He was 50 years old. Pitt, always tucked into a thick, dark green quilted coat and sporting a full, reddish beard, lived mainly on the southwest end of town, spending his nights on a bench in Beeksma Park or in nearby City Beach Park, and spending his days hanging around Burger King, 7-Eleven, and across the highway at Starbuck’s and Albertsons. A sunny day would find him sprawled out on a bench, and on rainy days he’d take refuge on a plastic chair under an awning. Oak Harbor apparently isn’t the type of town to turn its back on a man simply because he’s homeless and sometimes in need of clean clothes and a shave. Friends say Burger King often left food out for him, and on cold nights businesses would let him spend the night inside their locked doors. Police Officer Pat Horn checked on Rick regularly. Greg and Linda Wasinger, the owners of 7-Eleven, gave him food and presents each Christmas, including the big coat he wore. Mary Russell, a store clerk, said she’d sometimes bring him left overs. Like many people, Russell suspected he was ill in his last days. “His color was bad,” she said. “You could tell something was wrong.” Pratt didn’t have to be homeless, according to Andrea Groberg, who often chatted with him over coffee at Starbucks. She works for Island Employment Services, and first stopped to offer assistance. But she learned that’s not what he wanted. “He was frustrated because people were always trying to find housing for him,” she said. “It’s the way he wanted to live. He was really intelligent and really kind, and he was part of this community.” Lisa Clark, the director of the Opportunity Council, said she’s received at least a couple dozen calls and e-mail messages over the years from well-meaning folks who wanted the agency to help Pratt, but there was nothing she could do. “He chose to live his life that way,” she said. “Our best advice was to treat him with dignity and respect. He was quite harmless.” Groberg said Pratt has family in Colorado, who didn’t want to deal with his funeral. But she said she wrote a letter to his mother so she would know that her son will be fondly remembered. As far as she knows, he did not have any children. Although nobody seems to have known a lot about Pratt’s past, this much can be pieced together: He was never married. He came to Oak Harbor through the Navy. He ran a computer shop on Pioneer Way next to what is now P.W. Murphy’s. When the business went bust, he hit the streets. “His presence on that bench will be missed,” Mayor Patty Cohen said. “I know that many folks on their way to work would glance over and mentally check on him. I found myself doing that regularly.” Tuesday morning a bench in Beeksma Park was host to an impromptu memorial to “Rick,” as few people seemed to know his last name. Mayor Cohen sent flowers from the city and herself, Johnnie (Sue) Ferguson dropped off a bouquet, and Sue Ellis stopped by to leave a bouquet purchased at 7-11. Her bouquet was wrapped in a brown paper bag, on which she wrote some parting sentiments. “So long, Gentle Giant,” she began. “I will miss you nodding hello.” A nod, a smile, and a hello were all most people got from Pratt, but even that was enough to forge a friendship. “He had his reasons for being quiet,” said Ellis, who works for Nor-Vac Sweeping. She’d often saw him sleeping early in the morning as she swept parking lots. “He was always such a Teddy bear,” she said. “Always real pleasant, and I always honored his privacy.” The big homeless man was never seen drinking alcohol, and never considered a threat, according to Ellis. “I was never concerned when kids were walking past him.” Johnnie Ferguson, a retiree who lives in town, didn’t know Rick Pratt’s last name either, but she considered herself a friend. She said he once lived at Rhododendron Park near Coupeville, and was co-owner of a computer shop on Pioneer Way for a short time before he became homeless. “I got to know him at Henderson’s,” she said, referring to a nearby restaurant where Pratt would sip coffee several years ago. “He was very, very close-mouthed. Our heart went out to him but he couldn’t help it.” The chrysanthemums, gladiolas and dahlias from the city were entwined by a ribbon saying, “In memory, Rick.” A simple, low-keyed statement that Rick Pratt no doubt would have appreciated. Buy a bench An effort is underway to purchase a park bench in memory of Rick Pratt. Anyone wishing to help is welcome to call Andrea Groberg at 279-1407, or look for donation jars in area businesses.

Goodbye Rick,
God rest your soul!! You have touched many of our lives and will not be forgotton!!

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