Larry Selman was a prolific fundraiser and a genuinely nice guy.
If you've ever watched "Friends," you've seen the building at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets in Manhattan.
That building was used for many years as the exterior of the hit 1990s sitcom. But earlier this month, some real life friends gathered there, too, to honor someone else: Larry Selman, a legend in the Greenwich Village community.
Larry Selman was known to the folks in Greenwich Village as the Collector of Bedford Street.
Why the "Collector of Bedford Street"? Selman collected an estimated $500,000 for charity before he passed away in January 2013 at the age of 70. He was also developmentally disabled.
“I believe there's a god, and I believe that he put us here for a reason," Selman told his Bedford Street neighbor, Alice Elliott, in her 2002 Oscar-nominated documentary about him.
“I see Larry as a philanthropist and a fundraiser and a community activist, and he had an IQ of 60 or less," Elliott told the gathering of friends earlier this month as they honored Selman at the corner of Bedford and Grove by naming the street corner after him.
A short pudgy man with thick prescription glasses, Selman lived in a cramped apartment with his beloved pets.
He quickly became involved in his local block association from the very beginning of its creation. He was helpful to his neighbors, accepting deliveries when they couldn't be home, sweeping the sidewalk, and in one case even reminding neighbors of other neighbors' birthdays.
He was, in that sense, Facebook before Facebook even existed. "He just made it his business to know who you were," Elliott said.
In the ultimate of neighborly acts, the local block association even raised money to care for Selman themselves after his elderly uncle passed away.
“If you measure people's hearts instead of their IQs, Larry would've been completely off the charts," Elliot said.
The trust fund was built up with contributions from people who lived in the neighborhood and even some who had retired and moved away to distant states. After Elliot's documentary was released, the Kiwanis Club adopted it as a tool for teaching "service leadership" to high school students. Students in high school Key Clubs sold buttons with a drawing of Selman to raise money, sending checks of $500 and $1,000 that also went in to the trust fund.
To say that Selman was a persistent fundraiser is like saying that Bruce Springsteen occasionally rocked the house.
Selman was a relentless force on the streets of Greenwich Village, raising money for AIDS, the fallen firefighters of 9/11, and in his final days of solicitation, a group that provides pets for seniors.
He was a familiar sight in the neighborhood, always approaching passersby for contributions. And neighbors said that one of the Selman's greatest charms was that he never found it inappropriate to ask for a contribution.
In "The Collector of Bedford Street" we see Selman hitting up a doctor who is examining him, asking for a contribution. At a ceremony in 2009, Selman was honored by The Caring Institute along with Colin Powell. During a photo op, he promptly asked the former Secretary of State if he'd like to contribute a little something, too. Powell placed a $100 bill in Selman's hand.
When I attended Selman's 70th birthday party not long before his passing, he asked me in that unmistakeable nasal New York accent, "Would you like to make a contribution?"
Selman suffered a stroke in 2007, meaning that he was destined to spend the last six years of his life in a wheelchair.
But even this didn't stop his fundraising. Although his speech was slurred, he still wheeled around Bedford Street collecting. Home care attendants, paid for by the community, stayed with him 24/7 in the one-room apartment whose walls were covered with greeting cards bearing pictures of puppies and kittens.
He passed away in June 2013, but he'll be remembered as the founder of an unmatched community in his neighborhood.
After the unveiling of the street sign that will now mark the corner of Bedford and Grove as Larry Selman Way, Elliott told a gathering of neighbors and local legislators:
“We feel that Larry actually created this community and that we are all beneficiaries of that. I hope we can pass it forward."