Small group mourns the passing of a homeless man

Posted Friday, Dec. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Marty Wilson’s death hit Driss Siyas hard.

“Since he died the day before Thanksgiving, I feel like I’m missing my dad,” said Siyas, a Moroccan immigrant who owns Casablanca Coffee on 8th Street.

Unlike some people, Siyas never feared Mr. Wilson, a 57-year-old homeless man who for several years spent most of his days pacing the sidewalk in a roughly 100-square-foot area of the courtyard behind the Fritz G. Lanham Federal Office Building.

Siyas organized a brief memorial service Thursday on the courtyard to honor his friend and give others the opportunity to stop by and pay their respects to the man they’d seen almost daily.

Loren Kolba was one of more than 35 people who gathered under the U.N. Tree, an Oak tree dedicated by Fort Worth to the United Nations in 1965. Kolba said Mr. Wilson wasn’t much of a talker.

“His routine was pacing,” said Kolba, a GSA employee. “Everyone in the Federal Building knew it was his area, and we would worry if he wasn’t out here.”

Federal Building workers who took the time to meet Mr. Wilson came to know him as a gentle person, Kolba said.

“He’d get agitated if any of the other homeless people came into his area,” Kolba said. “But anyone else could come over and sit with him and he’d be calm.”

Friends at the memorial said they never saw Mr. Wilson panhandling. Siyas and another shop owner, Angeliki Holley, said he refused to take anything for free.

“I’ve been here five years,” said Holley, owner of David Dalton Salon on 8th Street. “He’d walk into the salon and ask how much for a haircut. I’d tell him I’d cut his hair for no charge. He never would let me.”

Brian Chapman, who works in the Federal Building, said he talked with Mr. Wilson and had coffee with him occasionally.

“He never asked for anything and was always nice,” Chapman said.

Friends say it was rumored that Mr. Wilson was a veteran and that he may have worked in the Federal Building until mental illness caused him to lose his job. Then, he couldn’t give up the routine of coming to the same spot each day.

Some people who stopped to talk to him said they left with the impression that he worked with math, perhaps as an accountant.

A photo of Mr. Wilson in Siyas’ Coffee shop shows him standing with his back straight, hands together palm-to-palm in front of him, fingers pointing up.

“When Marty put his hands together like that, he wasn’t counting the windows of the Federal Building,” Siyas said. “He was saying to people ‘Please, talk to me.’ 

Many homeless people become desperate for human contact, said Natasha Lawry, a social worker with CASA of Tarrant County who read a brief prayer at the memorial service.

Lawry asked God to “open our eyes to see the homeless like you do. Give us your courage to look people in the eye.”

Anyone who looked into Mr. Wilson’s eye found a good soul looking back, even if they couldn’t understand what he was saying, Siyas said.

“A lady asked me how I could understand him,” Siyas said. “I speak five languages and teach Arabic and French. But I don’t need to understand someone’s English to know that somebody needs something. There are words of the lips and words of the heart.”

Lawry said a city employee confirmed that Martin Matthew Wilson died Nov. 27, 2013, and that he was born in 1956.

A health care facility where Mr. Wilson was taken when he was near death called the medical examiner’s office to obtain a cremation permit, Lawry said. The information led Lawry to believe that Mr. Wilson died from some form of cancer.

There is a record that suggests Mr. Wilson may have stayed in one of the city’s shelters on East Lancaster Avenue in 2011, but not recently, said Rebecca Cox, continuum of care coordinator for Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.

“I am guessing he was a camper and didn’t often access service on East Lancaster,” Cox said in an email to the Star-Telegram.

Mr. Wilson impressed people who got to know him and he was grateful to those who made the effort, Siyas said.

“Anyone you get a chance to help, do it before it’s too late,” Siyas said.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans

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