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January 15, 1986
They remember homeless Mama

Woman who died Christmas Day buried by Grand Central friends

by Larry Sutton
An elderly woman was buried in Queens yesterday. No one knew her real name. No one knew if she had any family.

She died Christmas Day on a bench in the waiting room of Grand Central Terminal. Sick, frightened and alone, she was one of hundreds of people who use the train terminal for shelter from the cold. Her friends at Grand Central called her "Mama." The medical examiner's office said she died of pneumonia.

Yesterday, a handful of people gathered around her grave at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, Queens.

Mama's gray, cloth-covered casket was surrounded by flower arrangements placed at the grave site by cemetery workers. "We borrowed them from other graves that had lots of flowers," said a worker. "We didn't want her to be buried without flowers."

Among the mourners was Jeanne Murphy, an insurance company executive from the Bronx, who paid for the burial after learning that Mama died penniless.

"I have no idea who she is," Murphy said, "but to me she was a symbol. I was touched by the wide disparity of events on that day. There was the joy of Christmas, and there was the sadness of her death."

George McDonald, an advocate for the homeless, shivered in the cold nearby. "I met Mama about two years ago," he recalled. "It's a shame that in a city as rich as New York, a woman had to die this way."

The Rev. William Guido, pastor of Our Saviour Church on Park Ave. and 38th St., prayed for Mama. He noted the concern for the homeless generated by her death.

"It's unfortunate that a tragedy must occur to bring out the best in people," he said.

Guido said his parishioners would pay for a headstone at Mama's grave.

Members of the Coalition for the Homeless plan a memorial service tonight for Mama and the other homeless people who died last year at Grand Central Terminal.

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