A cheerful presence despite his troubled life, Carl Phillips often stood outside the Valleyview Cooper's Foods store, where he made an impression on customers and employees alike.
Phillips didn't ask passersby for handouts, but he was quick with a smile and to show his gratitude for whatever charity came his way.
He made no secret of the fact that he was an alcoholic, but neither his addiction nor his passive panhandling seemed to bother people. To the contrary, he was well liked and often fraternized with the employees at a nearby plumbing and heating business, sometimes lending a hand with cleanup.
"I liked him because he had a nice, friendly face and he never asked for anything," said Wendy Krauza, a Cooper's customer. "People liked his character."
Last September, Phillips suddenly disappeared from his regular spots. He'd slipped, struck his head and didn't recover from a coma.
Mortality is high among street people, particularly those suffering addictions, and they often die without notice. Phillips stood out, though, and somehow touched many people with whom he came into contact.
Krauza, a TRU teacher who has a particular concern for homelessness issues (Carl, she learned, wasn't homeless and was a resident of Leland House), was among them. When she read of his death in a letter published in The Daily News, she started talking around campus about a way of honouring his memory.
A call to ASK Wellness put Krauza in touch with Phillips' mother, Violet. She hadn't intended to contact Carl's family directly, but the connection turned out to be a positive one since Violet was grateful for the gesture and shared memories of her son.
"That really made me more aware of the human that Carl was," Krauza said. "He certainly made us smile. Those who paid attention to him certainly liked him."
Violet told her she'd like to see some kind of marker to remember Carl.
Working with a few others, Krauza contacted Ernie Cordonier, manager of the Valleyview Cooper's. He, too, had come to know Carl and was more than willing to accommodate the request. That's why a plaque recently installed in a storefront window reads: "Carl's Spot - Remembering your warm smile and gentle spirit."
"That wording is perfect for him," Krauza said. "He was a bit of a gentle soul and we were attracted to him."
Cordonier, who was introduced to Carl's family on Saturday, said he left a lasting impression on employees and customers. They showed him kindness and respect, and he reciprocated with a big smile that warmed hearts.
Violet recalled her son's good-natured, easy-going personality, and recalled a few stories of his humorous antics over the years.
"I'm very pleased," she said of the plaque. "I'm really thankful."
Carl was 51 years old when he died. His family finds some consolation in that he is no longer out in the cold. When temperatures plunged, they'd often go looking for him.
When he visited his mother, though, he was always sober.
"A couple days before it happened, he was over to the house and had lunch," Violet recalled. "He was as happy as could be. He said, 'I'm going to stop drinking and get work.' "
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