“Who flew to and from the ocean every day, and spoke with birds, and he once woke to a cloud of butterflies kissing him — may he rest in peace.”
by C.W. Nevis, San Francisco Chronicle
Thomas Hooker flew to the ocean every day.
Actually, he couldn’t fly. And to be honest, he probably never made it to the ocean either. But the thought of it always made him happy.
These are sad times up and down Clement Street in the Richmond District. Hooker, known as Thomas to residents, was a constant, cheery presence in the neighborhood. He died in his sleep at his campsite on Oct. 27.
Homeless and living out of a shopping cart for over 20 years, Hooker slept outdoors on the greenbelt at Funston and Clement. In the morning he’d walk over to Ninth Avenue to spend the day talking to neighbors — and himself.
“With his wording and his vocabulary, you could tell he was very educated,” said Robert Schaezlein, who has a silversmith shop on Clement. “He had kind of a cool aura about him. But he was also completely cuckoo.”
This isn’t a story of a group of people getting together, making a plan and taking care of a sweet, addled homeless guy. It is more the story of Thomas, who won everyone over with kind thoughts, unquenchable optimism and a gift for mystic imagery.
Lea Grey Dimond has run Thidwick’s Books on Clement since 1999. She and Thomas met up every day because his campsite was nearby.
“He liked to sleep in late and come home early,” Dimond said. “You never knew what he was going to say, and you knew he had his troubles. But my criteria for doing the right thing is doing the best you can with what you’ve got. Thomas was doing that.”
The day after he died, Dimond put a sign in the window of the bookstore: “Thomas — who flew to and from the ocean every day, and spoke with birds, and he once woke to a cloud of butterflies kissing him — may he rest in peace.”
Residents have been sharing memories all week. On Monday, a memorial service will be held at the Star of the Sea Church at 7 p.m.
Among those attending will be Arnold Low, who met Thomas at services at Star of the Sea. Impressed by the homeless man’s knowledge of Scripture, he began slipping him a few dollars each day and providing food items that were soft enough that Thomas could eat them despite missing several teeth.
“At one point we joked that maybe we could add him to our income tax return as a dependent,” Low said. “He was very approachable, always a big smile.”
Low once hired Thomas to clear out a garden patch at his home. He did a nice job and even asked Low for some scissors to trim his unruly beard and dreadlocks. It was one of several times when it seemed he might be able to turn his life around, but mental confusion always pulled him back to the street.
“One time I was looking for him and couldn’t find him,” Low said. “He said he’d been on vacation to the beach. Other times he’d tell me he’d won the lottery, ‘So many millions,’ he said. ‘I will give you some.”
He was the most giving homeless person I’ve ever run across,” Schaezlein said. “I’d walk by and he’d say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a doughnut. Want a doughnut?’”
The news of Thomas’ passing first appeared in the Richmond District Blog and readers filled the comment section with encounters and stories. A woman named Patricia, who said she’d lived near Thomas’ street site for 15 years, recalled the day she offered him some BBQ pork buns.
“He wouldn’t accept them!” she wrote. “And insisted on giving me a dollar. I was mortified. I mean, what kind of person takes a dollar from a homeless guy? I tried to give it back, but he was having none of it.”
As you might expect, there were many attempts to get Thomas into housing. He declined those offers, just as he did when Dimond, and others, offered him a tent.
He had such severe claustrophobia he just could not have done it,” she said. “He could not go inside.”
And that is why Dimond says she was sad to hear that Thomas had died, but was comforted in how it happened.
“He just laid down and went to sleep,” she said. “I am so thankful. It is the best death Thomas could have had. If an ambulance had been called he would have been strapped down and confined.”
Dimond contacted the city to make sure someone would take responsibility for Thomas’ body. And, she says, they’ve hit on the perfect burial.
“Thomas will be cremated and ashes scattered at sea,” she said, “which is exactly what he would have wanted.”
Godspeed Thomas. One last flight out over the waves.