Ray Richard’s office was on a busy corner in Portland’s Old Port, in a window well outside the Christmas Noel shop.

Every day, hundreds of visitors walked right past him. Most people probably never noticed.

To many, he was just another panhandler, asking for change from people who flowed by on the brick sidewalks on their way to the boutiques, bars and restaurants.

Over the years, however, many people working in the Old Port came to know that Richard was much more. They knew him as a man who was friendly, helpful and generous, even when he didn’t have much to give.

Richard, a chatty panhandler who overcame homelessness and was known as the mayor of Middle and Exchange streets, died Saturday at his home in Portland. He was 55.

Next week, employees from a nearby law firm who befriended Richard will host a celebration of his life at the corner where he was a fixture for many years.

An obituary submitted by the Exchange Street law firm Warren, Currier & Buchanan tells the story of a complicated yet friendly man who struggled with alcoholism and chronic homelessness.

“He would sit down in that little window well and watch the world go by,” said David Currier, a partner in the firm, who emailed Richard’s obituary to the newspaper. “I walked past him about 100 times before I knew anything about him.”

Richard grew up in Westbrook and attended local schools. He dropped out before graduating and left home at age 17.

He joined the Navy and attended boot camp, but only for a brief time, said Carol Dalpee of Casco, one of his four siblings.

Richard was estranged from his family for the last 20 years or so.

He was remembered Thursday for his strengths – not weaknesses. Richard was a skilled carpenter, and played the guitar pretty well.

He was a creative storyteller, and it wasn’t always clear if some of what he said was true. He loved the ocean and enjoyed fishing off the Maine State Pier.

Richard was a loyal friend who looked out for his buddies. He was the type of guy who took an interest in those who walked past his corner office. He would say “hi” to people walking to work, home, or to a local business. He was polite, often wishing people a good day, after hearing the word, “No,” in response to his request for change.

His friendliness struck a chord with Currier, who made it a point to stop regularly and say hello to Richard.

“He taught me that you really can’t assume anything about street people,” Currier said. “You can’t assume that they’re mentally ill or that they’re dirty. You can’t assume that they are not real people because they are. He taught me something about life. There aren’t many people who I can say have done that.”

Currier shared a story of the day Richard asked employees at Starbucks for a broom to sweep up a broken bottle on the sidewalk.

“He was afraid that a dog would cut its paws on the glass,” he said.

Richard was well known in downtown Portland. Patrick Gwinn, a senior managing scientist at Integral Consulting at 45 Exchange St., built a friendship with Richard over the last four to five years. Two summers ago, Gwinn took Richard boating on Casco Bay.

“He had such a great time,” Gwinn said. “I let him take the helm and drive around. He was on top of the world … the captain of Casco Bay. He liked the water and he liked to fish. It gave him a chance to see things from a different perspective.”

A few years ago, Richard found housing with help from social workers at Preble Street, the nonprofit social service agency. He continued to panhandle at the busy corner until last year. His obituary says he died after a period of declining health.

“He was very sincere in his thankfulness to people,” Gwinn said. “He panhandled long enough to fund his needs for the day. I think he appreciated interacting with people. Sometimes, he would tear up and say, ‘I’m panhandling. I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ Most of the time, it wasn’t about the panhandling. It was about his interactions with people and how he could bring a smile to someone’s face that morning.”

The celebration of Richard’s life will be held Dec. 30 at 8:30 a.m. at the corner of Middle and Exchange, with coffee to follow in the second-floor offices of Warren, Currier & Buchanan at 57 Exchange Street. It would have been Richard’s 56th birthday.


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