Skip to content

'Very sad': Homeless community mourns loss of Rick, 'The Mayor'

'He said he was all right, he said he was fine, but I know, in his eyes … I think it was just his time, you know. He’s been through hell and back,' says friend

On Family Day, members of the homeless community, along with many of the people who help support them, find themselves mourning the sudden passing of one of their own: Rick, dubbed “The Mayor” by his friends, died Saturday. He was 75.

He was recently profiled in BarrieToday stories chronicling the plight of shed dwellers on Victoria Street, a short distance from downtown Barrie.

Rick’s longtime friend, who goes by the name “Whitey” in the encampment where he lived, confirmed his death.

“It was either Friday night or yesterday, but he was found yesterday … late afternoon,” he said, sitting over a small campfire inside his own large makeshift shelter a short walk from Rick’s homemade shack, where his body was discovered.

“He wasn’t feeling good the last few days. He went to a buddy’s to have a shower and put some clean clothes on, to make him feel better, maybe. They fed him up a good meal,” Whitey added.

“I think it was just old age, but I didn’t ask the cops," he added.

“He said he was all right, he said he was fine, but I know, in his eyes …” Whitey trails off, poking at the embers in the fire. “I think it was just his time, you know. He’s been through hell and back.”

Rick, a weathered-looking elderly man with a gravelly voice, spoke to BarrieToday in mid-January about his life prior to being on the street.

His wife, he explained, had succumbed to cancer six years ago. They split up in 1998 because he “hit the bottle and ... lost everything,” he said at the time.

“I still drink. Three beers and that’s my limit. I could drink 12 or more, but at my age, after two, I get tired.”

Rick had been residing in his shed on Victoria Street since last March.

Before that, he was in another location nearby, a stone’s throw away, with other shed dwellers, but he said he moved because the others were in their 50s and he’s 75. He liked to go to bed early, and said he preferred the quiet isolation.

His “roommate” at the time was his buddy, Brad, a soft-spoken 53-year-old.

Attached to their hut is a three-man tent covered by a tarp. There are seven or eight sleeping bags inside.

“I crawl in and once I’m covered up, you don’t feel nothing when you stop all the wind,” Rick said. “Brad sits out here and keeps the fire going all night long.”

Rick had called Barrie home since 1998. He arrived from Toronto, where he used to work for Snap-on tools, setting up and working the press machines.

A reporter from BarrieToday tried to locate Brad over the last few days in the wake of Rick’s death, but has so far been unsuccessful. There have been no footprints in the snow around their hut, although blankets and clothing are still visible inside the makeshift plywood and tarp shelter.

Whitey recalls when Rick was given the moniker of “the mayor” among their peers.

“This (encampment site on Victoria Street) used to be ‘the breakfast club,’” he recalls.

“We’d all show up here in the morning when The Beer Store would open. We’d come here, sit around and have a beer or two, and make sure everyone is all right, then carry on, turn around and go on with our day,” Whitey adds.

Whitey says there were up to 30 people at the spot for their "well-being" meetings.

“That’s why we called him the mayor, because he and I found this spot,” he says.

“Once we all started to get together, we all started to call him the mayor. My buddy would make up a story (and say to Rick) ‘You’d better get hold of the government and start raising our cheques and everything’ … oh, jeez, it was funny. You had to be there.”

Whitey says his friend wasn’t afraid of anything, adding it will be a much different place here without him.

“I thought he was going to go at least a couple more years, the stubborn bastard. You know, he could have been already dead, but just didn’t want to lay down. He was a good old bugger," joked Whitey.

What happens to Rick and his family now is uncertain, Whitey says.

“I have no way of getting hold of his son, Jacob, and I don’t know where he lives,” said Whitey, adding he's not certain of Rick's surname.

Tom Kee, the head of Life Patrol outreach with New Life Fellowship Baptist Church in Innisfil, said he was sad to hear of Rick’s passing.

Kee knew him well as he and his outreach group go out every Monday and Friday to deliver food and water, along with clothing, to encampments throughout the city.

“It was very sad, and quite a shock when one of our friends pass away,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday.

“When I think about Rick — he was a wonderful man — from every contact we made with him since we started our life patrol in June. We would see Rick twice a week pretty much every week since then," said Kee.

“He was always a wonderful, bubbly, friendly man, who was always thankful every time whenever we gave him a peanut butter and jam sandwich, and a banana or an orange. There was never a negative moment with him,” Kee added.

Kee says he is upset when he thinks about people having to survive outside in the winter.

“Thankfully, we had a mild winter, but I feel for anybody to be put in that situation and to be of that age, male or female, and to be forced to be in the elements, to be forced to live without a roof," he said. 

“I feel terrible that Rick was in that situation, and I feel absolutely terrible that every single last one I serve out there is in that situation,” he added. “We go out there and do what we can, we do a little bit, but all of us from all agencies feel terrible for all in that situation.”

Meanwhile, on Monday morning, another outreach group arrives at the encampment to help the residents of the haphazard collection of half a dozen ramshackle sheds.

This time it’s a pair from the Barrie Victory Centre, a church on Prince William Way in the city’s south end.

David Phillips, along with his friend, George, unload a vehicle at the side of the street in the snow, setting up a couple of folding tables so they can hand out hot pasta meals, granola bars, water, clothing, and more.

“We just started it about a year ago," said Phillips. “It’s just a handful of us from the church. And I felt that God wanted me to do this.”

George helps him out, handing containers of food to the residents lining up for a meal.

“We are all just one pay cheque away from being here ourselves, right?" he said. “We are all God’s children. And God wants us to help each other and be good to each other.”

One of the camp residents collects the supplies given to him, turns and starts walking toward his shed. He looks at the reporter and comments about his friend Rick.

“He was a cantankerous old prick, but I loved him anyway. He liked to growl at people, but he was the mayor of Barrie,” he says with a smile.

Reader Feedback

Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
Read more