Monday, June 23, 2008

In memoriam: Phillip Joseph

today i learned of Phillip Joseph's passing. and i am, indeed, mournful about it. i'm realizing how it hurts even when you learn that someone on the periphery of your life has passed way.

Phillip was the super of my first apartment here in new york. i like to think he'd been on Hamilton Terrace his entire life, which is where he took his last breath. he was the first trusted person i came to respect and depend on during my first few months in my new home. whatever i needed, whatever i asked of him, whether it was his job or not, whether i'd gone through the protocol of calling the management service or not (which i rarely, if ever, did) Phillip Joseph was gracious enough to oblige my request with class, dignity and diligence. he is one of the most respectful and dignified people i've ever met in my life, and always, ALWAYS made a point to recognize how he esteemed me as a young lady. He'd say "Young Lady, God and your parents have done a wonderful job with you. They must be so proud." Standing at 6'5 inches, Phillip looked as if he'd probably been a handsome athlete in his day, basketball or track, and it's still baffling that his only loved one appeared to be his mini doberman pincher, Champ. i never heard him speak of family other than an elderly man on the block whom he would refer to as his father (though for some reason, i don't think the man was a biological relative.) but because it seemed that taking care of my apartment and all the others on the block was his life, i'd make a point to save a plate for him when i would bake chicken&cornbread or make okra&corn succotash. he was eternally grateful for those plates, and cherished the warm smile i gladly shared with him. Phillip would look for mice and move dead bugs for me before i could even ask him, things that i still can't manage to do til this day. he was an extremely intelligent and well read individual, and we'd share all kinds of interesting conversations on a saturday afternoon. once he even sent complimentary maid service to clean my house because i'd been having a problem with the management service! he was like a long lost uncle at times, and truly looked out for me. even when drama inevitably ensued between my roommate, the owner, and myself, he still did what he could to look out for my well being, and for THAT i am most grateful.

the weekend i was moving out of my place uptown, one of Phillip's employees told me and my mother that Phillip had been hospitalized for a serious medical condition that he'd developed. i had no idea, i just knew i hadn't seen him in a while and couldn't reach him by phone. once i found out where he was, it was all we could do to go up to that hospital to visit Mr. Joseph. we let him know that we loved him, that I was forever grateful for his dutiful service to me, and offered a prayer of healing and comfort. it turned out that he'd suffer some kind of major problem to his left foot stemming from work he'd been doing in one of the neighborhood homes. the story is kind of sketchy in my memory now, because this was a few years ago, but the doctors had done something wrong in their treating of his condition, and it was going to result in a malpractice that he would need to pursue. things didn't sound too good, so we also held him up in prayer about that as well, and Phillip was beside himself with joy that we thought that much of him to come, visit, and share a prayer. but how could we not? he'd been there for me since day one. no questions asked. nothing asked of me.

since moving to brooklyn, i've made a point of going up to my old neighborhood on 144th & Hamilton Terrace whenever i'm in harlem, just to see if i can catch Phillip out taking Champ on his daily stroll. it was hit or miss, but more often than not i'd catch them walking slower than i remembered but still the same Phillip Joseph. and his eyes would ALWAYS light up to see me. it was like a piece of home seeing him as well, because he was so nice; southern nice, and sincere. we'd get caught up, he'd always ask about my mom. he'd tell me that he wasn't doing all that well, but he was still getting around since his injury. it would always be a brief hello, but always well worth the trip when i'd find him. he'd be so happy and would send a text message the next day just thanking me for thinking enough of him to come by the neighborhood. one trip in particular, he asked if i'd like to meet for lunch and i said that'd be great, but never quite got around to taking him up on the offer.......

since january, i've gone to the old neighborhood looking to run into Phillip Joseph out with Champ. but every time i went he was no where to be found. i thought it a bit strange, but figured perhaps i was just missing him, afterall, the times i'd go up there were pretty random. but i'd keep coming back to check. today was no different, i was uptown doing a friend's hair and decided to walk over to the old neighborhood and look for Phillip. i was actually on the phone talking to my mom when one of my old neighbors came out of a building on the block. he was also on the phone when he came over to give me a hug, but when he excused himself from the conversation he turned to me and said "did you hear about Phillip.... he died." "DIED???" i asked, immediately trying to find out more about the situation. though i knew he wasn't in the best of health i had no idea he had passed away. my friend didn't know any details and quickly said goodbye, and while my mom was on hold i went over to a group of people sitting out on a stoop to ask if they knew anything about Phillip's passing. they knew very little but said that he'd died alone in his apartment earlier in the year. "they found him up there," they said, "but we don't know anything else."

i wish i'd known. if they didn't know too much and they lived in the same building, there certainly was no way for me to know. but i wish i'd known. i wish i'd been able to pay my respects at his funeral service--if there was a service. i feel like i should've been there. i feel indebted to Phillip for his kindness to me. it was an example that stood out so much because, as i said, he was the first person to look after me in this crazy city. and you need people like him in your life. i can't believe that i will never see him up on 144th street again with his hat and his grin, walking Champ. he is forever a strand in this tapestry life that i love. you have to love people. it's necessary. you never know how you just being YOU to someone will profoundly affect that person's life. i will always think of him, and i'm privileged to have known him.


Charles Perkins said...

Phillip seems to have been a very nice man. I wish that I could have known him. I am glad that such a man as he took such a healthy and helping interest in my daughter.
Phillip Joseph...You are paying your respects to him. Each memory you have of him, each time you share those memories are all part of that respect. The respect you gave him in life, the way he appreciated your concern for him...he knew how you felt. That's real respect. Every now and then, think of him when you eat some cornbread and chicken. Give a little wink to the sky in his honor at the next helping of corn and okra succotash. Remember him by walking down the street where he walked his dog. Remember the richness of his laugh, the encouragement of his words, the southern style of his personality. In other words, respect and honor him by remembering him. He touched your life and you touched his. You will always have that.


Barbara Perkins said...


This was a wonderful memorial to Phillip Joseph. Although you did not have an opportunity to add closure, you did capture the essence of who Phillip was in your memorial and for that you are to be commended. He was the epitome of Southern hospitality. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to me him, especially since he was so nice and helpful to you. I always felt like I had known him much longer than the few times that I visited you. And he always had complementary things to say about you as well. I am also glad we had the opportunity to pray with him.

God's Grace and Peace to you!


Meara said...

Well said.