William “Bob” Pearce, a homeless alcoholic, died alone a week ago in a vacant house without heat, but he was surrounded by friends at his burial Monday in Vale Cemetery.
City police found Pearce’s body on Jan. 22 inside 7581⁄2 State St. The cause of his death is unknown, and he might have been dead for days. Results of an autopsy were unavailable Monday.
The county Department of Social Services paid for Pearce’s funeral. He was buried in a section of Vale reserved for indigent people. Donations will pay for a marker for his grave.
Approximately 25 people attended Pearce’s burial. None were relatives or immediate family, just friends who met him when he sought treatment for his alcoholism, or wanted a hot meal at a local shelter or needed a warm place to sleep.
Many remembered him as a kind man destroyed by a long-lost tragedy. He was from Binghamton and came to Schenectady about 10 years ago, essentially to receive alcohol rehabilitation services, said friend Mark Mahoney. The treatment failed and Mahoney met Pearce 41⁄2 years ago in April as he drank in an alley behind a downtown business.
“He was a good friend and a drinking partner. I got to know him and I got to love him,” Mahoney said.
Pearce loved music, especially music from the 1960s, Mahoney said. “He sang out music as he walked, and he walked as best he could because he had no toes. People thought he was inebriated [even when he wasn’t],” he said.
Pearce lost his toes at least five years ago, Mahoney said, when he got frostbite from sleeping outside. “At one point, he was a strong human being, but when he lost his toes, it destroyed him,” he said.
Despite his ailments, Pearce “always walked tall, he walked straight. He has an honest and good man,” Mahoney said.
Kathy Ghikas remembered Pearce as a man who “had a lot of pain inside. He never shed tears for people to see. The tears were in his heart.”
She spent hours speaking with him, and “I wiped away his tears. He thanked me and told me I was beautiful inside and outside. He told me my heart is so kind and pure.”
At one point, Pearce asked Ghikas to marry him; she declined, saying she was already married.
Jeffrey Demers said Pearce would stop by his house and watch people play horseshoes in his yard. “He couldn’t play himself because of his feet,” he said.
Demers last saw Pearce 10 days ago. “He was all clean shaven and wanted to go to social services to get benefits, to get a place to live and to get out of the cold.”
Margaret Anderton, executive director of Bethesda House, said Pearce was on a waiting list to get into the agency’s special housing program called The Lighthouse. The 10-bed facility is for people with chronic homelessness and a debilitating condition. It provides a stable environment, case management and other services.
Bethesda House is planning to expand Lighthouse when it relocates from Liberty Street into a new facility on State Street. Its proposed $4 million facility will contain a daytime drop-in center for the homeless and mentally ill and 15 bedrooms for the chronically homeless.
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