|< Return To News Archive|
|November 18, 1985|
|Georgian hope, Harvard luminary, N.Y.C. flotsam|
by Rick Hampson
|The young woman met Gary on Independence Day 1979, at a backyard barbecue outside Washington. He was just out of Harvard, on his way to Columbia Law School. "Gary will be at least a governor some day," a mutual friend assured her. |
But when they met again last month, the woman recalls, Gary was in tatters, hobbling along Fifth Avenue, "stopping at each trash can to look for something to eat."
At 28, the pride of a poor, black Alabama family has become one of more than 30,000 people living in New York's streets and parks.
Even in a city with an endless diversity of broken lives, Gary's is a special tragedy.
"We can't get him off the street because he's an attorney," George McDonald of the Coalition for the Homeless said Monday. "When he's stopped he snaps out of his daze and summons the will to argue. He's articulate, he's intelligent and he knows his rights."
Some friends tackled Gary on a sidewalk in Rockefeller Center this month and sat on him until police arrived. But Gary talked his way out of custody, correctly pointing out that no psychiatrist had ruled him a danger to himself or others.
Gets wide berth
Gary's friends agreed to discuss his case on the condition that his last name not be divulged.
He appears to suffer from a variety of maladies, including malnutrition. "He has trouble lifting his leg up to the curb," said his former girlfriend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Gary has been a familiar, pathetic figure on the streets of mid-Manhattan, hunched over, falling out of a pair of pants held together by staples, shuffling about in shoes several sizes too large. Because of his smell, "people give him a wide berth," McDonald said.
But with winter on the way, Gary -- who sleeps in Central Park -- faces "crunch time," McDonald said. If he is not taken in soon, he will die.
Gary was born in Columbus, Ga., and raised across the Chattahoochee River in Phenix City. He graduated third in his high school class, was named "Youth of the Year" for his essay on the American family, and won a scholarship to Harvard.
At Harvard, "my first impression was the same as everyone else's, that he was very sharp, very interested in politics," said Rachel Kemp, a fellow member of the Young Democrats. "He was one of those people who is always involved with something."
His picture appeared on the front page of the Harvard Crimson after he helped raise funds on campus for the National Association of Colored People.
When Gary was accepted at Columbia Law School, "we all thought that this was a career that was going to blossom," recalled Ms. Kemp.
That summer he worked in the Washington office of Alabama Sen. Donald Stewart, and met the young woman at the barbecue. "He was very funny, very friendly," and they began dating, she said.
After Columbia he clerked for a federal judge in Montgomery, Ala., and got a $42,000-a-year job at a Miami law firm.
He quit the firm and stayed in his apartment, staring out his window at Biscayne Bay. He arrived in New York this spring, and began living on the street.
Ms. Kemp, who had lost touch with Gary, spotted him on a street corner this summer.
"It was a situation where you think, 'It's him,' and then think, 'It can't be him,'" she said. "He was eating out of a garbage can."
Like his former girlfriend, Ms. Kemp has tried unsuccessfully to get Gary to seek help. Working on the theory that he has abandoned his usual haunts in recent weeks, she looked for him over the weekend on the upper West Side of Manhattan.
"We weren't the closest of friends, but he was my classmate, and you can't let one of your classmates go down the drain," she explained.
When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, police are allowed to pull "endangered" people off the street. That is the only way to save his life, his former girlfirend said: "He doesn't think there's anything wrong with him."
"Here's someone who had everything against him, a poor black guy from the South," McDonald said. "But his intelligence and hard work brought him up. If he can recover from this, I can see him helping a lot of other homeless people."
|< Return To News Archive||^ back to top|