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October 5, 2009 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Listeners to NPR have probably heard the blurb: "Support for NPR comes from the estate of Richard Leroy Walters, whose life was enriched by NPR, and whose bequest seeks to encourage others to discover public radio." Nothing too out of the ordinary. Except Richard Leroy Walters was homeless.
posted by kmz (54 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting. Now I want to know more about his story! Get on it NPR!
posted by diogenes at 9:20 AM on October 5, 2009


Wow, what a surprising story. Thanks for this.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:21 AM on October 5, 2009


Not all who wander are lost.
Great story!
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 9:22 AM on October 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


.
posted by leviathan3k at 9:22 AM on October 5, 2009


That guy's my hero.
posted by Caduceus at 9:24 AM on October 5, 2009



posted by jquinby at 9:25 AM on October 5, 2009


Woah.
posted by Xany at 9:31 AM on October 5, 2009


The leading cause of homelessness is not poverty. It's mental illness, and a piss-poor societal support structure for those afflicted. It is absolutely unfair to say he was a lovable eccentric just because he had money.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:47 AM on October 5, 2009 [17 favorites]


people are amazing.
posted by 256 at 9:47 AM on October 5, 2009


what's with the scare quotes around atheist?
posted by Narual at 9:50 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Mr. Walters. My life is enriched by NPR (and your story) as well.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seemed like a decent and interesting guy. I'd like to know more about him (and about what he wanted to have done with his money, and why he decided on such a difficult and unusual after-retirement lifestyle)

Hope not too much of it went to NPR, though, as opposed to the other non-profits he also donated to. (How Scott Simon justifies his 300,000 year salary as the host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday is completely beyond me)
posted by Auden at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


but, as Slap*Happy implied: one has to wonder whether the homelessness was a choice or the result of mental illness. the linked articles seem to imply strong mental health by pointing out that he did his own taxes and was a successful investor. on the other hand, the fact that the nurse at one point helped him find temporary housing suggests that perhaps he ended his life homeless not by choice, but by helplessness in the face of mental difficulties, despite his wealth.

i fear this is likely a tragedy masquerading as an uplifting tale of eccentricity.
posted by 256 at 9:52 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not all who wander are lost.

Good point. Some who wander do so because they suffer from mental illnesses, which so stagmatizes them in our society that they have difficulty getting proper treatment despite the fact that they are millionaires.
posted by dersins at 9:52 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Stagmatizes? What the fuck, me?
posted by dersins at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The nurse seemed to imply that that being homeless was a rationally made choice with, "He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have," and she seemed to know him reasonably well. Of course, I imagine that not everyone here would be willing to take the nurse's take on things for granted.
posted by cimbrog at 10:00 AM on October 5, 2009


Hope not too much of it went to NPR, though, as opposed to the other non-profits he also donated to.

"Several charities received about $400,000 each from the estate, including National Public Radio and the Mission of Mercy. "
posted by mrbill at 10:00 AM on October 5, 2009


I'm just gonna go ahead and try to derail the outrage train to angrytown here.

It's impossible to say from the linked information whether he was homeless by choice or not. I think it's fair to raise the possibility as a counterpoint to those with a more optimistic outlook, but yours is not necessarily the way, the truth, and the light. If a few people would prefer to read it as an uplifting story, then that's just as valid as you wanting to discuss perceptions of mental health in the U.S.
posted by kavasa at 10:02 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I feel so Bourgeois, listening to NPR in my apartment, while taking a shower.

The linked NPR story raises more questions then it answers. They certainly could have sussed it out using the wiki entry. It is a nice stub of a story.

I imagine his life was also enriched by whatever company manufactured his portable radio, I wonder how much they got‽

As Auden points out, NPR is completely self-sufficient to the point of offering very, um, competitive salaries. If only they had the confidence to no longer accept the monies the federal government continues to pay them, despite its deep financial woes, I might be more inclined to scrape something from my student stipend to offer up in support. As it is, they are taxpayer funded and, well, technically, I'm one of those.
posted by geekyguy at 10:07 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, I heard this blurb dozens of times and never thought to look into it. Driveway FPP.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think it's interesting how this discussion is framed in terms of a dichotomy of "choice" or "mental illness".

Yes, I know they're short terms used in a simplified way to ease discussion, but I'm still a bit uneasy with the idea that my (presumably not influenced by mental illness) decisions are true "choices" whereas those of a mentally-ill-according-to-the-DSM-IV person are not.

If he didn't want a home (I don't believe we know whether this is the case or not — but I don't see anything saying he expressed a desire to have a home but nevertheless couldn't do it) and lived this part of his life in such a way as to bring that wish about, whether he was mentally ill or not and whether we consider it a good idea or not doesn't matter — it's a choice.
posted by BaxterG4 at 10:10 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


> (How Scott Simon justifies his 300,000 year salary as the host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday is completely beyond me)

All of NPR's news show anchors are expected to put in time on location reportage as well. Whether Scott Simon personally is worth a six-digit annual salary can still be argued, but it compensates for more than spending two hours a week at a microphone.

And for some additional perspective: "Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined."
posted by ardgedee at 10:13 AM on October 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


If only they had the confidence to no longer accept the monies the federal government continues to pay them, despite its deep financial woes, I might be more inclined to scrape something from my student stipend to offer up in support.

Don't restrict yourself to just one reason. That way you're not caught out if they ever decide to decline federal support. I'm sure there's lots of reasons you can make up to not give them money.
posted by electroboy at 10:15 AM on October 5, 2009


what's with the scare quotes around atheist?

I don't think they are scare quotes, just the latest incarnation of a blurb resulting from a Wikipedia quibblefest. There seem to be duelling parties wishing to emphasize either that he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, or that he lived his life as an athiest. The quotes are redundant after "self-described" but the revisor was probably trying to stress that it was a quote, a word that Walters himself had actually spoken at some time in his life. It's pretty stupid, but there you go. And it's Wikipedia, so feel free to join the fray.
posted by Bokononist at 10:15 AM on October 5, 2009


what's with the scare quotes around atheist?

It's Wikipedia, you can go fix it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:16 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure being in a situation like homlessness could probably cause mental illness too.
posted by anniecat at 10:20 AM on October 5, 2009


The nurse seemed to imply that that being homeless was a rationally made choice with, "He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have," and she seemed to know him reasonably well. Of course, I imagine that not everyone here would be willing to take the nurse's take on things for granted.

Yep, because some people here always know better than the rest of us do, even when they aren't in any way personally acquainted with the specific circumstances of a story. And of course, anyone who chooses to live in a way that's radically inconsistent with our expectations or outside certain social norms must be a victim of some kind of mental illness. That's just obvious to anyone who isn't socially insensitive. (Well, except when it comes to certain special categories of behavior, which of course, we all agree are normal now.)

There are people in different cultures all over the world who renounce their worldly possessions in exactly the way this man did--at least, according to the one account we have from someone actually close to him. And yet, as complete strangers, we should feel obligated to step into the narrative and second guess the circumstances of his life until we can find a way to view his circumstances as tragic in some way that reaffirms our own comfortable values systems (namely, that no sane person would ever voluntarily give up the comfortable life)? There's a term for this: it's called bourgeois insecurity.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:27 AM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


As someone who works with homeless people, I don't want to detract from the reality that much of mental illness is a direct result of mental illness and addiction. But I do want to make note of the fact that the NPR set is prone to more Thoreauvian fantasies about leaving society behind. If I had a corn cob and a bale of hay for every time I've looked into permaculture institutes I'd have a house by now.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:28 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or "homelessness is a direct result of mental illness and addiction." If you want a sentence in English. Next up: how girl get pragnent.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:30 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am deeply uncomfortable with a lot of the assumptions being thrown out on this thread which don't seem to be warranted by anything in either of the links. Someone who is not a danger to themselves or others is entitled to their own life and their own choices, even if you would not make those choices and you think that person would benefit from treatment.

If this man had taken orders and given all his money to the Catholic church, would you have the same reaction? Why or why not?
posted by mayhap at 10:31 AM on October 5, 2009


Seemed like a decent and interesting guy. I'd like to know more about him (and about what he wanted to have done with his money, and why he decided on such a difficult and unusual after-retirement lifestyle)

Wikipedia cites a PDF from A Mission of Mercy (PDF direct link, Google HTML version), which includes the following:
[T]he dedicated volunteer nurse [Rita Belle] helped Richard with his doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, cooking and eventually found him housing at several low cost transitional housing complexes. However, Richard would become restless, and in a short time would leave his modest dwelling. After numerous attempts to relocate Richard into a safer environment, Rita accepted that street living was the way Richard preferred to live.
This PDF might also be the source of the "atheist" text in the wiki article, as A Mission of Mercy's article states: Although Richard was an avowed atheist, Rita continued to be a spiritual witness to him.

An interesting note: he was buried with full military honors at the Military Cemetery in
Phoenix. Nice to see he was honored in passing.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:33 AM on October 5, 2009


The nurse seemed to imply that that being homeless was a rationally made choice with, "He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have," and she seemed to know him reasonably well. Of course, I imagine that not everyone here would be willing to take the nurse's take on things for granted.

It's not that I'm reluctant to accept her judgement because she's a nurse, or a catholic, or whatever reason you're implying. It's that the linked articles quote her as saying, first, that he chose to give up the material life and, second, that she helped him find temporary housing.

These two things taken together suggest that there's probably more than satori to the story of how he ended up homeless.
posted by 256 at 10:34 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know they're short terms used in a simplified way to ease discussion, but I'm still a bit uneasy with the idea that my (presumably not influenced by mental illness) decisions are true "choices" whereas those of a mentally-ill-according-to-the-DSM-IV person are not.

This is a very good point. Obviously it's a choice either way, the question is whether it's a fully informed and empowered choice. The real question here, and the thing that's missing from all the available accounts, was whether or not he was happy.

If he was satisfied with his circumstances, that is one thing. If he wanted to change them but felt unable to do so, that is qutie another.
posted by 256 at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


As someone who works with homeless people, I don't want to detract from the reality that much of mental illness is a direct result of mental illness and addiction. But I do want to make note of the fact that the NPR set is prone to more Thoreauvian fantasies about leaving society behind.

Exactly. And from my own experience, I know personally of people who've lived the homeless life who were not, in the usual sense, mentally ill.

A friend of mine's dad, for example, actually managed to accumulate a small fortune for himself by living essentially as a homeless man while my friend and his siblings were growing up. The whole family would sneak into college lecture halls after hours to sleep when he was growing up. Meanwhile, my friend's dad held a regular job, and the family lived so cheaply (another money saving tricks they employed: go into a restaurant get all the kids water to drink, then use the free lemon wedges and sugar to make free lemonade), he collected millions in savings.

I realize that it's a terrible thing to understate the problems of the homeless--and particularly, mental illness as a factor in homelessness. And I also realize that people like my friend's dad are far and away the exceptions to the rule, but they do exist.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:43 AM on October 5, 2009


Wow, this is a story that needs more detail. I'm surprised that NPR doesn't have some kind of repeat-feature on it.
posted by medea42 at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2009


And for some additional perspective: "Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined."
posted by ardgedee


Thanks for posting this, I was going to post the same thing. I'm not entirely sure if 300k a year is the right amount, but non-profits should certainly be paying competitive salaries to attract the best people. I heard there was issues with their former CEO being overcompensated as well, and that they're now trying to rectify that with better contracts in the future. I'm not saying we shouldn't scrutinize them, but we shouldn't expect that they must be ascetic just because they work for a non-profit.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:45 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


If only they had the confidence to no longer accept the monies the federal government continues to pay them, despite its deep financial woes, I might be more inclined to scrape something from my student stipend to offer up in support. As it is, they are taxpayer funded and, well, technically, I'm one of those.

NPR is no more taxpayer-funded than any other organization that receives federal grant money. So by your criteria, also refrain from donating to... well... pretty much every non-profit organization in existence.

I think you are confusing NPR with PBS. I also think you are confusing your local NPR affiliate with the national NPR organization, which is mostly funded through payments that the local affiliates make for each program they broadcast. Your local NPR affiliate probably also buys programing from American Public Media, Wisconsin Public Radio, and PRI, as well as content produced by other local affiliates.

Information about NPR funding is on their wikipedia page.
posted by muddgirl at 10:51 AM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


At least now I know what the NPR target demographic is.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 10:58 AM on October 5, 2009


I'm not entirely sure if 300k a year is the right amount, but non-profits should certainly be paying competitive salaries to attract the best people.

How do you know that they're the best people? That's Wall Street's great argument about why their management level people are compensated what they are, and most of them are clearly not the best. And no one is saying they have to live like monks or at the American poverty level, but are some of their people really worth what they're being paid? Would they make a lot more at a private corporation? Doing what? How do you know?
posted by anniecat at 11:37 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


He didn't sound particularly UNhappy. I mean, he got to know that nurse pretty well apparently, and she never noticed him being unhappy. Mental illness or not, if you're deeply unhappy about your living conditions, people close to you will know, if they have any empathy at all, and a nurse likely would.

So, it seems to me that he chose his existence and was not too unhappy about it. He was certainly reasonably functional. If there were more guys like him and fewer guys like Rush Limbaugh, the world would be a far nicer place.

I like that he was an atheist too. Many religious folks have this concept of atheists as being immoral, or at least amoral, which is way off base. As an atheist, I consider my time spent alive as both heaven AND hell, and I do what I can to make it more like heaven than hell, for others as well as myself. I don't do good deeds because a book told me I should, or because I think I need enough God Points to get past Peter, but because it simply makes the world a little better place; that's the only rationale I require.
posted by jamstigator at 11:40 AM on October 5, 2009


I'm just gonna go ahead and try to derail the outrage train to angrytown here.

On Mondays, for me anyway, that's the only stop.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:46 AM on October 5, 2009


saulgoodman: I'm just a layman, but it seems that you friend's dad was pretty clearly mentally ill.
posted by aspo at 11:59 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: I'm just a layman, but it seems that you friend's dad was pretty clearly mentally ill.

Not from all evidence I've heard. His kids don't even hate him or anything (which is the part that blows me away). He was, apparently, just really, really determined to become wealthy. Either way, he's richer than either of us now, so I guess if he was crazy, he was crazy like a fox.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:08 PM on October 5, 2009


How do you know that they're the best people?

I don't, but I assume an organization as longlived, successful, and that puts out such a good product does a fairly good job discovering this.

That's Wall Street's great argument about why their management level people are compensated what they are, and most of them are clearly not the best.

Comparing NPR to Wall Street is apples to fighter jets. Also 300k is so incredibly nothing in the Wall Street world that the comparison is even less apt.

And no one is saying they have to live like monks or at the American poverty level, but are some of their people really worth what they're being paid?

Some of them may not be, but I don't think it should be assumed they naturally aren't.

Would they make a lot more at a private corporation? Doing what? How do you know?

I would tend that the burden of proof is on those accusing them of some horrible transgression rather than my soft defense that they might not be that terrible after all to get paid those amounts.

Cursory research indicated that Morning Edition which Scott Simon is part of, gets 20 million plus listeners a week, if a show he participated in hosting on a commercial station pulled that many, he'd be making a lot more. I know NPR is not directly comparable to commercial radio, but still, I don't think it should be taken for granted that he's doing something wrong.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:19 PM on October 5, 2009


i don't like this pitch. how about we make him a quietly desperate unibomber with a jodie foster sized crush on TERRY GROSS?
posted by Hammond Rye at 12:34 PM on October 5, 2009


Thoreauvian fantasies about leaving society behind

Except that the idea that Thoreau left society behind for any amount of time is a farce.
posted by xmutex at 1:05 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


At least now I know what the NPR target demographic is.

Humanists, evidently.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:41 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


. . . the family lived so cheaply (another money saving tricks they employed: go into a restaurant get all the kids water to drink, then use the free lemon wedges and sugar to make free lemonade). . .

Oh so he was that guy.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:24 PM on October 5, 2009


Oh for fucks sake. Some of you would complain if we paid teachers more because they ought to be doing it for the love of teaching.
posted by danny the boy at 7:23 PM on October 5, 2009


Oh for fucks sake. Some of you would complain if we paid teachers more because they ought to be doing it for the love of teaching.

Teachers face way more scrutiny (and way more direct abuse from parents, students, and the general public) for far (far far) lesser pay than do nonprofit execs.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and other NPR management have pretty much agreed through their actions that they won't be jumping ship if they have to trim their pay a little bit.
posted by anniecat at 8:10 PM on October 5, 2009


Trading from a phone in a pool room. Shades of "My Man Godfrey"
posted by carping demon at 9:23 PM on October 5, 2009


Good point. Some who wander do so because they suffer from mental illnesses, which so stagmatizes them in our society that they have difficulty getting proper treatment despite the fact that they are millionaires.

Not true. At all. Millionaires are insulated from stigma. The reason why the poor are so outrageously overrepresented among the "mentally ill" is that the label of "mentally ill" can't be affixed without their being surveilled. The very rich never, ever have to worry about this- sequester uncle crazy in the guest quarters. The poor are the victims of this label.

This guy? Where is the evidence that he's "mentally ill" in the first place? Is eschewing material possessions necessarily a sign of mental illness? He was smart and resourceful enough to live LIKE a homeless person and to efficiently avail himself of every resource that a homeless person has access to. He was a fucking genius who worked the system as he wished. And he left behnf a fortune as his legacy, to give to charities.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:36 AM on October 6, 2009


"behind."
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:36 AM on October 6, 2009


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