Larry Selman had a lot of strikes against him from the start. Weighing just three pounds at birth, doctors thought he wouldn’t survive. In high school, he was identified as being developmentally handicapped and dropped out after a teacher told him that he wasn’t capable of earning a diploma. The best job he could get was working as a laborer for the city parks department. After the death of his parents and a benevolent uncle who’d helped him financially, he struggled to live on his own in a small apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
But Selman, who died on Jan. 20 at age 70 in New York, transcended those obstacles by devoting his life to helping others in even tougher straits. He developed the habit of approaching people he met on the street and asking them for a $1 or $2 – not for himself, but for a charitable cause. According to the New York Times, over the past four decades Selman raised more than $300,000 for beneficiaries ranging from muscular dystrophy researchers to the families of those who perished in the September 11 terror attacks.
“I love helping people,” Selman explained. “I don’t get any money. I do it because I get a good feeling.”
Selman became famed as “the Mayor of Bedford Street,” after the address where he lived. “He’s like our Forrest Gump,” Bill Lavelle, treasurer of the local block association, told the Times in 2003. “But he’s real.” Though his more affluent neighbors had their differences with him over the years – at one point they tried to have him evicted for allowing homeless people to use his apartment – they ultimately were so moved by his generosity that they worked with United Jewish Appeal to set up a small trust fund to augment his Social Security benefits.
Even after a 2007 stroke compelled Selman to use a wheelchair and left him with slurred speech, Selman continued to raise money for good causes, according to this article in the Forward, a Jewish publication. He spent the time just before his death raising contributions for a Jewish Association Serving the Aging project that provided pets as companions for seniors. His neighbors now are looking for someone to adopt Selman’s own dog, Penny, who was his constant companion.
Photo: The Caring Institute