Jonathan Vincent is mourning the death of a friend, a man to whom he delivered a sofa, struck up a friendship and with whom he helped to hand out money to the homeless.
The death of Robin Williams in San Francisco this morning has left Jonathan saddened and reflective about a man who quietly gave his time and his money to help others.
Jonathan who now lives in Merimbula on the NSW Far South Coast, first met Robin Williams in 1988 when he was working with a removal company to the rich and famous of San Francisco, AKT Trucking. The trucking company was delivering items to Robin Williams’ temporary home while his new house was being built.
Jonathan said: “We were delivering an expensive couch to his house in San Francisco at the Golden Gate and we just seemed to click. He couldn’t get his head around my New Zealand accent. He could do an Australian accent but not New Zealand one. I worked for him a couple of times and then he said that he was involved in some charity work and would I mind giving him a hand.”
Jonathan agreed to help Robin. “He drove up to my place, picked me up and we drove to an area where there were lines of homeless people outside soup kitchens.”
“We parked and went on foot and Robin started handing money out. Some people recognised him and some thought he was a ghost. He wore a hoodie because he didn’t want to be recgonised.”
It became a regular outing for Jonathan and Robin about once a month over the course of almost four years when Jonathan lived in San Francisco.
Jonathan said that Robin would either leave some money with the soup kitchen organisers or simply hand it out to the homeless in the queue.
“He was a generous, witty and kind person with his time. He was famous on the big and small screen but there was another side to him that I was privileged to
be apart of. The idea was hatched as we jogged around the cinder track in Golden Gate Park in 1989, every Wednesday Robin, a few mates and my partner and I would meet on the corner of O'Farrell and Van Ness to begin our rounds of visiting those who were sleeping rough.He was one of the brains behind the portable homeless shelter in a briefcase.
“You have to realise that San Francisco in winter it can get so cold that people have been found dead even on Market Street, the main shopping strip.
“Robin often handed out cash and clothing, but his greatest gift besides his humour was to offer his hand to show that he did really care. Robin quietly
supported many charities but one he was most passionate about was visiting San Francisco General and San Diego General hospitals to offer support to those living with HIV/AIDS.”
“I could not tell you what financial contribution he made to these hospital support services but it was significant. He used to say that he was carrying on the tradition started by Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead fame who would hand out $100 bills on Christmas Eve to the homeless.”
It was something that Jonathan also became involved in when he was asked to help Gerry Garcia.
“Robin would come along in his trackies and hoodie surprising and delighting those who recognised him.”
There were moments of quiet and introspection though. Jonathan said: “During his quiet moments you could see in his eyes there was a bigger plan. He always
wanted to ground himself by helping the common people. He was very introspective sometimes.”
But there was also a dark side with which Robin Williams wrestled.
Jonathan said that he saw that side when Robin wouldn’t speak for a couple of hours or would suddenly race off when they were jogging as if he wanted to outrun the dark mood that had overtaken him.
Jonathan said: “We have lost one of the great funny men on the 20th century. Robin always lived life at full speed, had his issues with addiction but in his eyes you could always see the spark of human kindness that made him more a man than a celebrity. He was a noble person, of great humility, whom I am privileged to say shared a tiny part of his life and humanity with me.”