Ten years ago when U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey proposed to his wife, Tonya, on a downtown street corner, one of Fort Worth’s most cherished individuals was part of the event.
Charles Joyner, the double amputee known as Fort Worth’s unofficial greeter, was in his usual spot on his corner at Third and Houston streets when Tonya showed up to meet her date for dinner at Reata restaurant.
When Veasey arrived shortly afterward to greet Tonya, Joyner told him, “Mister, you should have some flowers for this beautiful young lady.”
Veasey, who had just won his first election as state representative, replied, “Yeah, but I don’t have any flowers.”
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Joyner then asked, “Well, do you have a ring?”
“Yes, I have a ring,” at which point he proposed.
Tonya Veasey told me that story Saturday morning, three days after I had written a column reporting that Joyner, a downtown fixture for over 20 years, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“Marc had set the whole thing up with Charlie,” Tonya Veasey said during a chance meeting at our neighborhood cleaners. “And Charlie had his lines down.”
Neither of us could have imagined that, as we talked about him, Joyner was literally dying that day.
The Veasey story is one of many that people have shared of the friendly man who smiled, waved and wished “a nice day” to passers-by.
Since news of his illness and death this weekend, hundreds of people have left messages on the phone, through email and in postings on Facebook and the Star-Telegram online page.
Before news of his death, office workers started collecting money, with one woman telling me that $300 to $400 had been collected before an official office appeal.
Another emailed me before news of Joyner’s death: “I have extra burial lots in the Live Oak section at Greenwood Cemetery and would be most happy to donate one for Mr. Joyner when the time comes, and if it is appropriate. I also would help pay for arrangements … all anonymously, please.”
She wasn’t the only one to offer such help, as several people said they wanted to make sure he had a “proper burial.”
From Queensland, Australia, came a message Monday from someone who had seen the story of Joyner’s illness but had not received word of his passing. Bil Colthurst, a Tyler native who worked in downtown Fort Worth from 1998 to 2000, said he told his two children, 3 and 9, about “Mr. Charles.” He once made a special trip from Tyler so the kids (now 20 and 25) could meet him.
“I know from losing my father to pancreatic cancer 15 years ago that it is fast-acting and always fatal,” Colthurst said. “I don’t know about healthcare in the USA and assume that Charles might not have health insurance that will provide him with palliative care. … May I offer to pay for his health insurance so that he can at least pass with dignity and comfort.”
While Joyner stayed at the Presbyterian Night Shelter, he normally slept outside on the front porch — the only person allowed to do that — because he thought there were too many people and too much noise inside, Executive Director Toby Owen told me.
The day my column about him was published last week, Joyner didn’t make his normal trip downtown.
Owen called to tell me, “He’s having a rough day today,” adding that the staff had been checking on Joyner every hour. “He’s been sleeping all day. I can’t believe how fast he’s gone down,” he said.
On Monday, Owen called to say that they had been able to get Joyner to a hospital and into hospice care by Thursday.
A memorial service is set for noon May 14. Attorney Kevin Clark, a longtime friend who’s helped Joyner over the years and was with him when he died, said the ceremony was originally set for the Norris Conference Center downtown, which holds 250 people. But because so many “friends” want to attend, it has been moved to the Rio Grande Ballroom of The Worthington Renaissance Hotel.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.