Richard Coleman, known to his friends as "Smokey" or "Richie" was a fixture in one Manhattan neighborhood for 20-years. He told his friends jokes and he was the first to say "good morning" to many of the folks headed off for work each morning. When Juanita Vega didn't see Coleman for a day or two she didn't think too much of it, but when a week and then two went by, she asked around about his whereabouts and learned he had died, according to Today on June 3.
Coleman often slept under the vestibule of the Upper East Side bank where Vega works and she would see him almost every morning. It was April when Coleman disappeared from his regular haunts. Laura Bogdanski works at a neighborhood bar and she would see "Smokey" almost daily. He would wait for her to open to get some change or cigarettes. "He was always dressed to the nines," said Bogdanski.
Coleman was a very big part of the Upper East Side neighborhood. When Vega learned that Coleman had died, she realized as a homeless man, he would probably be buried in Potter's Field. She couldn't see that happening to one of the Upper East Sides' own people.
Vega started the long and tedious process of trying to get Coleman's body released from the medical examiner to the funeral home where her boyfriend, Tom Valek, is director. Again, this was not easy even for someone with experience in the funeral business, but they finally got Coleman's body to Krtil Funeral Home.
While the funeral service was anything but elaborate, Vega, who couldn't attend because she couldn't take off from work, made sure her friend got a proper burial. Her boyfriend attended and even said a few words. Coleman was buried at Rosemont Memorial Park in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Vega paid $2,000 to have him buried at Rosemont, according to NJ.com. She said "we wanted to show that on the Upper East Side we help out our own."
A memorial service was held for Colman on April 27th at Carl Schurz Park near where Coleman called home. Laura Bogdanski organized the service for her deceased friend. This made it easier for the folks who knew the homeless man to attend a service right in the neighborhood.
About 25-30 people attended the service and people donated $1,700, which will go to the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Coleman's name.