When Homeless Pal Dies, Woman Pays to Bury Him

Bank worker saved 'Smokey' from mass burial in Potter's Field

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 2, 2014 1:34 PM CDT

(Newser) – His name was Smokey, and Juanita Vega woke him up every day for 11 years. In return, he called her "sis" and gave her tchotchkes that he found—a sweet friendship between a homeless man and an employee at the New York City bank where he slept in the vestibule. So when Smokey, aka Richard Coleman, died in April at age 62, Vega stepped in to stop him from being buried in New York City's Potter's Field, reports DNAinfo. "I didn’t want him to end up there," says Vega of the public cemetery. "He was a nice person. He didn’t deserve that." Her solution: She coughed up $2,000 to give him a proper burial last week in New Jersey.

It doesn't hurt that Vega's boyfriend is a funeral director who donated his services, and a few people in Vega's Upper East Side neighborhood slipped her a little cash, but most of the cost was hers. "I just wanted to do the right thing," she says. "Everybody knew him, so why should he end up in Potter's Field?"

This Sept. 13, 1990 photo shows a mass burial trench for adults on New York's Hart Island. Since 1869, more than 800,000 people have been laid to rest at the potter's field.
This Sept. 13, 1990 photo shows a mass burial trench for adults on New York's Hart Island. Since 1869, more than 800,000 people have been laid to rest at the potter's field.   (AP Photo/Claire Yaffa)
This Sept. 21, 2010 file photo provided by The Hart Island Project shows a trench for adult mass burials on New York's Hart Island, the city's potter's field.
This Sept. 21, 2010 file photo provided by The Hart Island Project shows a trench for adult mass burials on New York's Hart Island, the city's potter's field.   (AP Photo/The Hart Island Project, Melinda Hunt, File)
This Oct. 12, 2013 photo shows graves in a cemetery.
This Oct. 12, 2013 photo shows graves in a cemetery.   (AP Photo/Kathy Matheson)
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