A homeless man was found dead Monday under the East 18th Street bridge in Hopkinsville, but he was surrounded by family, friends and the local coroner on the day of his homegoing.
Maddux Fuqua Hinton Funeral Home hosted a pro-bono service at noon Friday for 44-year-old Rod B. Lady, formerly of Princeton. The service was organized by Coffee Connection proprietors Terri and Don Henderson along with the help of anonymous donations from their colleagues.
Kenneth Latham, managing partner at the funeral home, said he didn't know Lady but hosted the service for little to no charge because it was the right thing to do.
"Everybody deserves to be taken care of no matter the circumstances," Latham said. "We work with every family that walks through our door."
The time and exact date of Lady's death is unknown; however, Christian Coroner Scott Daniel found him Monday and set out to find who he was.
Daniel, who also attended the visitation, said he discovered from talking to people who knew him that he had family in Caldwell County and had amassed a group of friends at Coffee Connection in downtown Hopkinsville.
"In his case, he was offered money and a place to stay, but he wanted to be on his own," Daniel said. "He never wanted money. All he wanted was a cigarette."
He was an introvert, as described by people who met him, but he was friendly to anyone who got to know him.
"I got to spend time with him, but he mostly was just a quiet guy and he stayed to himself," said Anthony Johnson, manager of the Coffee Connection outreach center which provides free coffee and snacks to anyone who comes in. "On Saturdays when I'd be working — he didn't like to be around people — so I'd let him make the coffee, and he'd sit in there and drink coffee with me, so I got to learn a little bit about him."
Johnson learned that Lady was the son of a pastor, the late Rev. Bill Lady, who died in 2011, and the late Mary Ann Stallins Lady.
He once owned a Harley Davidson, Johnson recalled, but Lady said someone stole it out of his storage.
"I knew he had family, but I didn't think they wanted to have any involvement with him, but to see this crowd is just awesome," Johnson said of the service. "It brought tears to my eyes."
Nearly 60 people packed the pews at the funeral home on Country Club Lane. Former mayor Wally Bryan estimated about 15 of the attendees came from Coffee Connection. Lady's family sat on the first couple of rows and quietly wiped away tears remembering their loved one.
His first cousin, Jewell B. Mason of Caldwell County, said Lady will be buried in the family plot at Sugar Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.
He recalled Lady was very active and liked to work with his hands. His obituary said he worked in construction and was a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Princeton.
Of why he chose to move to Hopkinsville, Mason believes Lady came to escape a bad relationship and addiction.
"He was just a normal guy more or less, raised by a preacher, ended up in a bad relationship and deteriorated."
Daniel reported that Lady died of natural causes, but he sent his body for an autopsy to rule out any foul play. Hopkinsville Police Department also did a death investigation.
Daniel said this is the second homeless death he has worked in the matter of a month. David Prince was found dead Dec. 18 near Whistle Stop Donuts. The coroner said there was no evidence of foul play. Prince's last address was in Grand Junction, Tenn. A distant uncle was notified but said he hadn't spoke to Prince in years, Daniel said.
In that case, Prince was buried in a pauper service. Daniel explained that city and county officials cover pauper services for $600 and the body is buried in a plot at Riverside Cemetery.
Daniel said both cases are unfortunate.
"I don't know if these deaths indicate a trend about homelessness," the coroner said. "I think it's unfortunate and it's a coincidence."
Bryan, who spends time at Coffee Connection, said there are resources in Hopkinsville for those without a permanent home. The Salvation Army opens its emergency shelter at 5:30 p.m. nightly at 304 E. Seventh St. and also helps with transitional housing. Information about who is eligible for those services was not available Friday.
"Sometimes they don't qualify to go to the shelter, and sometimes they just want to be independent," Bryan said. "I think Rod's main place he liked to be was under the bridge by Piggly Wiggly."
Johnson said a lot of the people who hang out at Coffee Connection have jobs but come there for fellowship. He noted that he also shares information with patrons about local resources, including housing.
Of Lady, Johnson said he always made a point to speak to him when he saw him out on his own.
"He was just an awesome person," Johnson said. "I called him an angel because I would just see him all over town."
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.