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December 26, 1985
End of the line for 'Mama'

Death mars Yule for Grand Central homeless

by Murray Weiss and Adam Nagourney
An elderly homeless woman -- known at Grand Central Terminal as "Mama" by the destitute people who supplied her with food and cigarets -- was found dead yesterday on a wooden bench in the terminal waiting room that she had called home for at least a year.

A Metro-North police officer clearing the terminal of homeless people trying to escape the Christman cold realized the woman was dead at 12:48 p.m. after she lay silent when he banged the bench with a police stick while Christmas carols rang out over the terminal sound system.

Other homeless people and commuters said the woman had complained to Metro-North police on Christmas Eve that she was sick and wanted to be taken to a hospital. Witnesses said cops refused to take her, but a spokesman for Metro-North said there was "absolutely" no record of such a request.

Cops said she apparently died of natural causes. She was taken to the city morgue for an autopsy and identification.

Some friends said her first name was Mary and she was in her 60s.

Scarf on floor
Christmas wrapping paper -- apparently from a scarf given to her by charities that assist the homeless -- was at her feet. The purple scarf was in a clump on the floor.

"She was just an old lady with nothing to do and everybody watched out for her," said Richie Horvath, 19, another denizen of the terminal.

As commuters carrying gift-laden shopping bags rushed through the terminal, Mama's destitute friends gathered around the terminal benches and watched medics remove her body on a stretcher.

"I feel sick," said Manny Rosario, 33, a friend who also lives at the terminal. "I feel scared. The way she died, I can die the same way, too -- alone. Without family. No home. Alone."

The night before, Mama reportedly complained of feeling ill and asked Rosario and other friends for help. Both Rosario and another friend, Forrest Sheridan, said they asked a Metro-North cop at different times during the night to call an ambulance.

Rosario said the cop told him to "get out of here."

On Christmas morning, Ralph Marar, 26, said, he grew worried about Mama when she didn't want to eat any of the food he brought back from charity groups distributing holiday meals.

According to friends, Mama lived at the station for at least a year, spending most if her time sitting and sleeping on the hard benches in the waiting room.

At night, Mama -- who didn't speak English well -- reportedly refused to go to any of the shelters when cops closed the terminal at 1:30 a.m. Instead, she limped over to a windswept corridor that is not locked and slept on a cold concrete floor there, friends said.

Because she had difficulty walking, her friends picked up sandwiches and oranges from the Coalition for the Homeless and other charity organizations. They also supplied her with cigarets.

A friend who identified himself only as Carlos said: "She should have been allowed to stay here last night. Those (cops) sent her out in the cold."

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