Tyrone Murray
credit: Tyrone Murray

“Now you have a blessed day! Get home safe. You know I have you in my prayers.”

Tyrone Murray had a way with words, as much as he had a way with people.

My relationship with Tyrone began on a winter night in 2010, as I was crossing Wisconsin Avenue and heading toward the Tenleytown Metro west escalators. Not being familiar with Street Sense, I was admittedly skeptical about his charismatic approach. I believed he sensed what I was sensing. Instead of asking me for a donation in exchange for one of the papers he was carrying, he asked me how my night was going, and told me to have a good time.

After that exchange I looked into the organization and realized its mission.

Next time I saw him, I told him I had a great time. Then I gave a donation.

Over the course of two years, what began as brief, pleasant interactions from time to time – capped off with a donation for his cause – turned into the nascent stages of a friendship. I would ask him about his day, and listen as he told me about his triumphs and challenges, spoken with reflective depth and cadence of a man who had endured more than his share of life’s obstacles.

But then he’d listen to my triumphs and challenges.

As any single 30-something in the city, one of my challenges was the dating scene.

Before I proceed, pause for a moment to encapsulate this dynamic. Tyrone lived day-to-day, often not knowing where he would sleep if he didn’t make rent for his place in Capitol Heights, Md. I came from a plush downtown office building dressed in a suit during a regular, steady work week, on my way to a home whose payments I was not concerned about making. And I said dating was a challenge.

How did Tyrone respond?

“Mike, I know this girl. She’s done some work with me for one of her school projects. Real cute. Studies at AU.”

Before I could react to what he had just said that afternoon in May this year, he gave me his phone and said it was dialing.

He hooked me up with a date.

That was Tyrone. His interest was as much in making his way as it was in fostering his relationships. Genuinely. I never got a sense that he did me a favor because he expected one in return. He had my phone number. He never asked me for money.

I cannot count the times, during the latter stages of our relationship, when he would interrupt our more involved conversation to open a door for someone, or follow up with a comment with someone he knew, be he or she a Street Sense client, or a familiar face.

Tyrone exuded passion through his bright smile and kind words. This passion nurtured a part of me, as I’m sure it did for countless others.

He went far too soon.

I wish him peace every time I pass the spot where he helped give me some.