Homeless Memorials

On a day I would've wanted to talk to Al about the news, he wasn't hawking papers on his traditional corner by the Bon Marché. Instead, Duke was keeping watch with the papers, wearing a photo of Al wreathed with black ribbon pinned to his coat. "Have you heard about Al?" he asked me.

Turns out Al had died at Harborview Intensive Care Unit that Monday, after suffering a stroke the previous week. "He was good people; he was my best friend. He had leukemia and didn't know it," Duke said. For weeks before he died, Al had been unable to wear shoes, and had been shuffling around the streets of Seattle with his portable newspaper stand wearing open-toed hospital flats. I'd wondered why he wasn't wearing shoes, but never asked. Duke said he thought it was part of the leukemia; for a long time Al's feet had been very painful.

"What's the good news, Al?" I'd shout out to him as I passed by every day. "There isn't any," he'd say, laughing. He had a wry, cynical eye about politics and people, but one of the biggest hearts I've ever known. I'd always stop to talk to him on my way to Westlake for the Thursday anti-war Women in Black vigils; even though he disagreed with the efficacy of our efforts, he would wish me luck every day.

"He would never complain about anything," said Duke. "He always tried to help everybody." Since he died, I've heard the extent to which Al was advisor to many people. "He always gave me good advice," said JoJo Tran. Duke recently received a letter from one of Al's young friends from Boston, explaining she'd made a mistake about something, and wished she had listened to Al. She doesn't yet know he is gone.

Al is survived by his mother, Katherine Devany of New York City, his sister Ann of New York, and brother Richard of New Jersey. They flew out from the East Coast after Al's stroke and were able to see him before he died. They also heard stories from Al's many friends who loved him dearly here in Seattle.

Al came to Seattle in the late '70s from New York City; worked for a while at a travel agency, then as a telemarketer. Then he got sick, lost his job, and started staying at SHARE's Bunkhouse Shelter. He then stayed at a nursing home on Rainier Avenue, according to Duke.

When Al started working for the Times/P-I in the late '90s, he found his niche. One of 10 newspaper hawkers at various corners downtown from noon to 6 p.m., Al knew everybody; he drew people to his corner. "He made the spot!" said Duke. Vendors for the Times/P-I get a $10/day stipend, and get to keep the 25 cent cover cost of every paper they sell. They are agents for circulation for the daily papers, but they are also our watchers. If we take the time to get to know them they can, like Al did, deepen our sense of community.

As I stood talking to Duke, a well-dressed businessman came up from the bus tunnel and stopped to buy a paper. Hearing us talk about Al, he said, "Nice guy, never bothered anybody." "That was Jerry of Nordstroms," Duke confided to me afterwards. At least 30 of Al's regular customers came by the newspaper stand and signed a memorial card to send back to Al's family in New York. The nine other newspaper vendors wore their black-ribboned photos of Al for the entire week after he died.

Al Devany was known among his peers as the best vendor on the Times/P-I team. He had a huge heart, and was a weather eye on the 3rd and Pine corner. He is mightily missed. "Some of his customers don't come by anymore," said Duke. "I think they don't want to believe Al is gone."