Eric Frazier

Homeless in life, homeless in death

Eric Frazier

Gorman
Gorman

Al Gorman spent seven years homeless before finding shelter earlier this year.

The 73-year-old Army veteran and former electrician died last week, the victim of a chain-reaction car wreck that sent a Ford Ranger pickup truck crashing into his bicycle at Parkwood Avenue and Hawthorne Lane.

In death, he’s homeless once again.

Instead of a permanent cemetery plot, his body is being held by the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office, which investigates deaths from traumatic injury.

The office typically holds a body 10 days, by which time the next-of-kin are expected to claim it for burial. Thursday marked his 11th day there; relatives aren’t expected to collect him.

At this point, the examiner’s office normally starts preparing to send the remains to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh for cremation. The Coast Guard scatters the ashes at sea, said Bill Fish, an investigator with the Mecklenburg examiner’s office.

He didn’t have exact figures on how often it happens, but said it’s “surprising how many times we have to send bodies to Raleigh.”

In Gorman’s case, however, they’re holding off.

That’s because Gorman’s friends, as they did in life, are rallying to help him in death.

Gail Wellborn, a friend of Gorman’s going back 30 years, is trying to arrange his funeral. If she can pull the arrangements together, Fish said, the examiner’s office will release the body to her.

She’s having a hard time. She’s unemployed herself and depends on the kindness of a friend who lets her live rent-free in part of his home.

She went to Catholic Charities. They help indigent families with burials, but she’d need to repay as much of the $1,100 funeral bill as she could – a scary thought.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I just want him to have what he deserves.”

She knew Gorman as a lover of books and libraries, a good conversationalist. They met through mutual friends and bonded over a shared love of games like Boggle and Trivial Pursuit. When times got tough for him, her family moved him in with them for a while.

Wellborn said she last saw Gorman about a week before he died. They had coffee from the Starbucks in the Harris Teeter near Central and The Plaza.

“Our Al is gone,” her daughter later told her, breaking the news by phone.

He belonged to many others, too. Someone launched a Facebook page called “Friends of Al’s.” Others are trying to raise funds for the Urban Ministry Center – which helped him find housing – and for a bench in his honor at the Chick-fil-A he frequented. Bicyclists gathered for a vigil at the accident site and left a white “ghost bike” at the scene to remind motorists of what happened to him.

Wellborn is determined to get him a proper funeral, perhaps even with a military honor guard – if she can ever get a callback from the Veterans Administration. Her daughter, Kim Howell, has set up a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/c24x6hnk.

“There’s a lot of people who’ve been inquiring about what’s going on with Al, why there’s been no obit,” she said.

Al Gorman didn’t have a fat wallet, a fancy car or an imposing job title. But something about him impressed people. He was a poor man, but he proved that anyone can leave a rich legacy.

The medical examiner’s office will hold the body for another week or so, in hopes a proper burial will come together.

“I just want him to have the recognition he deserves, and that people who care about him can be able to lay him to rest properly,” Wellborn said. “If it were one of us, he’d do it for us.”

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com.

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