East Van pays respects to beloved panhandler Mike Lorimer

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      Residents of East Vancouver's Nanaimo and Hastings neighbourhood said their goodbyes to a much-loved local character at a rainy outdoor memorial service at Pandora Park Saturday afternoon (May 30).

      Michael Lorimer, a disabled former high-rise window washer, accepted donations of food and money for approximately 15 years from his station on the sidewalk in front of Church's Chicken at 2304 East Hastings Street.

      Lorimer—always accompanied by a small pet dog on a blanket, in a pet carrier, or sometimes on his lap—greeted shoppers by name on their way in and out of the busy Donald's Market next door to Church's.

      On May 19, Lorimer, whom everyone called simply "Mike", died in St. Paul's Hospital. The cause of death was natural, believed to be a lung complication (though not COVID-19).

      The memorial service in Pandora Park, attended by between two and three dozen people under a steady drizzle, was organized by Rena Biniaris and her mother, Chris.

      Biniaris told the Straight that her mother would check up on Lorimer frequently, making sure he had enough food and anything else he needed. "My mother was like a sister to him," she said.

      Lorimer came to many Vancouverites' attention briefly in early December 2018 after his latest animal companion, Mishah, a Jack Russell-Chihuahua cross, was stolen from Lorimer's usual spot while he left briefly to go to the washroom.

      Friends of Lorimer's put up posters in the neighbourhood and contacted media outlets, and Church's Chicken helped with setting up a reward for the dog's safe return. There were several TV news reports and many mentions on various social-media, along with pictues of Mishah.

      Several days later, Lorimer and his most recent pet were reunited after someone in Gastown spotted a man with a small dog in a baby carriage and called police, who recovered Mishah and arrested a 33-year-old man.

      At the memorial service Saturday, Barry Morris, a United Church minister at the nearby First Nations Longhouse Church, said Lorimer used to help set up for meals at the Franklin Street building, and he remembered him helping a family after a sudden death.

      First Nations Longhouse Church minister Barry Morris speaking at the memorial service.
      Martin Dunphy

      "He was a mystery, in some ways," Morris said. The minister also said that Lorimer "had a good relationship with a woman, but she died a few years ago." He noted that Lorimer made sure to pay her debts. "He was a man of honour."

      Lorimer had been in a wheelchair for about the past five years after a car crash left him partially paralyzed. He always parked his chair in the same spot he had occupied while standing or sitting, with his customary donation cup on the sidewalk in front of him. Many passersby would bring him snacks from Donald's or chicken meals from Church's (some of which he would debone and feed to his dog).

      Community members and friends set up a small memorial shrine at Lorimer's spot in front of Church's Chicken.
      Martin Dunphy

      One attendee at the service said she would remember Lorimer as she saw him once late in the day on Pandora Street, "hauling ass" down the road in his wheelchair, "with Mishah on his lap and a big smile on his face".

      Another said Lorimer would often come to see him and his brother with a gift of chicken on days when community members' generosity resulted in too much food. He added that Lorimer exhibited "bravery and courage" after he was confined to the wheelchair, and that he never slowed down. "He was a good person."

      Service organizer Biniaris said Lorimer wasn't afraid to stand up for himself: "He was the type of guy who wouldn't take crap from anyone, but he would give you the shirt off his back."

      One woman, who said she would sometimes give change to Lorimer, related her experience of his generous spirit: "I told him one day, 'I'm sorry, Mike, I don't have any money.' And he immediately offered me some."

      Community members at the Michael Lorimer memorial service in Pandora Park.
      Martin Dunphy

      A favourite saying of Lorimer's, related by an attendee with a smile on his face, was: "By all means, act crazy—just don't be stupid about it."

      Not much was known about Lorimer's background. Morris, who knew him for more than a decade-and-a half, told the Straight that he had helped Lorimer move a few times and that he had successfully dealt with substance-abuse issues over the years.

      He said he understood that Lorimer had a sister in southern Ontario (from where he came to B.C.) and a brother in the U.S., in Iowa, but that neither of them were able to make it to Vancouver.

      Morris also said that Lorimer had had several serious work injuries over the years as well as other medical hardships before the car crash that resulted in his partial paralysis. "He'd been hospitalized a number of times before, but he'd won all those battles."

      Vancouver-Hastings MLA Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, attended the memorial service. Simpson, whose constituency office is across the street from Lorimer's spot, said they spoke often.

      "He was so much a part of this community. This one very much embraced Mike—it was a better community with Mike a part of it."

      Simpson noted that when Lorimer was having some bureaucratic problems applying for his old-age pension and he offered to help, Lorimer replied: "I'm sure you've got people who need help much more than me."