MISSING PETER STEFAN
By Rosalie Tirella
Peter, outside his funeral home. Photos: R.T.
Thinking of the late, great Peter Stefan, the powerhouse behind a Main South funeral home, a swinging saxophone player, a writer of corny jokes, an inveterate flirt and a great friend. Thinking about how many people Peter would have saved this winter, if he were still alive. Thinking about how he would have shaped the City’s conversation around tiny houses for the poor, homeless villages and City-run homeless camps or converting hotels to affordable studio apartments for the homeless. Peter would have advocated for them all – loudly, intelligently, passionately and with the tenacity of an old pitbull with his favorite shoe lodged firmly between mighty upper and lower jaw.
I am thinking about what I saw…the homeless guy sleeping on the grates outside the courthouse in Downtown Worcester, just yards away from the theater with all its patrons rushing to their cars in the garage after the show… running as a cop stood in the crosswalk and stopped traffic so they could cross the street, get to their cars in minutes because it was so cold out… meanwhile a homeless man wrapped in a nylon comforter slept on a grate. Just yards away. I’m thinking about the opioid-addicted young woman, shoeless, bent over and holding a long piece of metal, gripping it so tight in the Canal District. Had she shot up? Was the drug killing her – not making her high, not making her forget? Her pain was so obvious. Everyone on Millbury Street could see… And the senior citizen who couldn’t afford his insulin this winter and unlike prior winters couldn’t knock on Peter’s big heavy Victorian front door and ask for his help … and get it.
Peter, if he knew about any suffering, man or beast, would step in and get to rescuing. I mean pronto. In his prime, up until his late 70s really, he was his own social service agency, the most hands-on Good Samaritan in Worcester. He’d drive to crime scenes to pick up burned bodies …then give the usually homeless person a wake at his Main South funeral home. The body would often be cremated for free. … Or Peter would fund the Worcester Senior Center podiatry clinic. Or he’d start a school supplies drive in the fall, out of his funeral home, for poor neighborhood kids going back to school. Or he’d be out driving a car-load of sweets and loaves of fresh bread from Nissan’s bakery/wholesale shop in Green Island to the PIP shelter on Charlton Street – treats for the often drunk, stoned, “actively using” homeless PIP clients who were often sprawled out on the floor by the entrance way. Peter would enter the PIP, make the donation to PIP Executive Director Buddy Brousseau, another terrific person, and together – because Peter was on the PIP’s board of directors – they’d hash out solutions to a few of this week’s crises. As Peter reminded me and Worcester at every turn: all homeless folks, everyone who’s shooting up in some stairwell or stumbling drunk in the Canal District and may be hungry and exhausted “has a mother and a father. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter.” Peter always saw the person drowning in his or her addiction, and he acted with love because he knew the person was in pain.
I miss my friend today! So much! When good people die they leave a hole in your heart, in the community’s soul, too. No one can quite replace them, their special way of helping, relating to people and animals. In my case, it was often a cute smile, a bawdy joke or two, a stroking of Lilac’s floppy ears and referring to Jett as “The Little Charm” – and then his ad $ donation. And InCity Times/CECELIA lived to fight another day.