Homeless Man Leaves Behind Surprise: $4 Million Richard Leroy Walters, a homeless man who lived in Phoenix, died two years ago. What people didn't know was that he was a millionaire. In his will, he left money for nonprofits — including NPR — and a nurse who befriended him 13 years ago. Rita Belle talks about their unlikely friendship.
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Homeless Man Leaves Behind Surprise: $4 Million

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Homeless Man Leaves Behind Surprise: $4 Million

Homeless Man Leaves Behind Surprise: $4 Million

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, a story about something you can hear every day on our program but that we almost never talk about - not a single-payer health-care system, the funding credits. That's what public radio people call our very short, simple commercials, in particular, this one.

Unidentified Announcer: 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.

SIEGEL: I heard that for the first time several weeks ago, and wondered who Richard Leroy Walters was. Out of sheer curiosity, I Googled the name and was soon reading an article in the online newsletter of a Catholic mission in Phoenix, Arizona.

Mr. Walters had remembered the mission in his will, too. It turns out, he died two years ago at the age of 76 and left an estate of about $4 million. Now, what distinguished Mr. Walters from any number of solvent, well-to-do Americans with seven-figure estates was this: He was homeless.

He was a retired engineer from AlliedSignal Corporation, an honors graduate of Purdue with a master's degree and a former Marine, never married, no children, estranged from his brother and homeless, but not friendless. Rita Belle is a registered nurse who met Walters at a senior center 13 years ago.

Ms. RITA BELLE: He always came in with a little backpack on and a cap on, and always, kind of, looked at me, and - but very reserved, and I'm very outgoing and outspoken, and so I said to him: Hey, you got a minute? Can you sit down and visit? And we'd have a coffee there at the senior center.

SIEGEL: They became friends. Rita Belle stayed with him when he was ill. She became his nurse and ultimately, the executor of his estate as well as one of the beneficiaries - all this despite some pretty fundamental differences between them.

Ms. BELLE: He was an atheist, and I'm a very profound, practicing Catholic, and I'd never met an atheist. And that just blew my mind that somebody could not believe in the Lord.

SIEGEL: In fact, Rita Belle volunteers at the mission with the newsletter, which like NPR and several other nonprofits, got about $400,000 from Mr. Walters.

Rita Belle knew him as a very well-informed man who could fix her air conditioning, someone she just assumed had a place to live, and then he told her he had no home. She heard that he slept on the grounds of the senior center. He told her that he ate at a hospital and used a telephone there or at the center.

Ms. BELLE: And I'm sure that's when he was making his trades and so on. He was involved in investing; we talked investments a lot.

SIEGEL: You mean, as he was homeless and going to the senior center and to the library, he was managing investments?

Ms. BELLE: Oh yeah, all his own investments, did always his own income tax. Mm-hmm.

SIEGEL: When Mr. Walters retired, he evidently retired from the world of material comforts.

Ms. BELLE: He didn't have a car. He just kind of gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have. You know, I don't know how we gauge happiness. You know, what's happy for you might not be happy for me. I never heard him complain.

He'd kid around sometimes and say, I guess I'll just take a hotel, and I'd go oh, yeah, if you had the money, you would, wouldn't you, you know, things like that, and he'd just laugh.

SIEGEL: It turned out he did have the money. He could have gone and stayed in a hotel.

Ms. BELLE: Yeah, he could have. He could have.

SIEGEL: Evidently, among the few possessions of Richard Leroy Walters was a radio, hence those announcements we hear now and again on NPR stations.

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