The Generous Atheist Was Homeless

Richard Leroy Walters died a couple of years ago, leaving behind $4,000,000. Per his wishes, the money was divided between NPR, a Catholic mission in Phoenix, and several other non-profits.

Despite his wealth, Walters didn’t own a car. Or a home.

[Friend Rita] Belle knew him as a very well-informed man who could fix her air conditioning — someone she just assumed had a place to live. Then he told her that he had no home. She heard that he slept on the grounds of the senior center. He told her he ate at the hospital and used a telephone there or at the center.

“He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have,” Belle says. “You know, I don’t know how we gauge happiness. What’s happy for you might not be happy for me. I never heard him complain.”

Oh… and he was an atheist. Gotta include that detail :)

“He was an atheist and I’m a very profound practicing Catholic, and I’d never met an atheist,” Belle says. “And that just blew my mind that somebody could not believe in the Lord.”

Walters was kind, living (very) modestly, generous, and apparently quite humble.

Tell me why we need religion to have morals again?

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com Veritas

    One might say he lived a Christ-like life.

  • Alan E.

    I wonder if she ever met a Hindu or Buddhist. Would that blow her mind too?

  • Sarah TX.

    I heard this story on my drive home from work yesterday, and it really touched me.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    We don’t, but they think we do. They know what’s best for us and everyone else. That’s why they’re dangerous.

  • Sackbut

    that just blew my mind that somebody could not believe in the Lord.

    I’ve met people like that. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s important that atheists be outspoken. Awareness.

    I note that he gave a substantial sum to a Catholic mission. I guess he thought they did good work, despite their religious affiliation. That’s not something I could do; the fact that they are a religious organization is a big negative to me.

  • Erp

    Hmm, according to the mission newsletter he was baptized catholic shortly before his death.

    http://www.amissionofmercy.org/media/pdf/AZWinterNews08.pdf

  • wall0645

    No wonder he was so rich, not having to pay for a house/car :D

    Though in all seriousness, that’s a wonderful story.

  • Cypress Green

    Tell me why we need religion to have morals again?

    Well first of all, because…uh…well GOD says…uh…let me get back to you on that.
    :)

  • http://www.freewebs.com/guitarsean SeanG

    Hmm, according to the mission newsletter he was baptized catholic shortly before his death.

    http://www.amissionofmercy.org/media/pdf/AZWinterNews08.pdf

    I just read the account of the baptism. I am extremely skeptical of the story. It smacks of a made up grab for someone’s good legacy. And I wasn’t aware that lay-catholics were qualified to perform baptisms. None of the other news accounts I can find mention a baptism either.

    Aside from the sketchy story, even if he was baptized he was obviously a good and generous person when he was an atheist. I wonder if the catholic crowd thinks they have to claim him in order to accept his gift.

  • Erp

    Oh I quite agree that the story of last minute conversion is odd; I just wanted to present all the evidence.

    Lay Catholics can baptize (for that matter in the Catholic eyes, atheists can baptize as long as (a) they intend to baptize someone a Christian and (b) they use something close to the correct form). He does seem to have been confirmed, which for the dying can be done by a priest instead of a bishop, and received communion (once). Given that he was dying from a stroke, his ability to fully consent may be doubtful (on the other hand he did leave $400,000 to the mission). I do find it odd there was nearly two months between his death (August 19) and church funeral (Oct 9). It was in September that the church found out he had left money to the charity.

    I will note the mission the money is going to provides free medical and dental care and free medicine to those in need regardless of their religion. It is primarily Catholic but not directly under the Catholic Church’s control.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    Because God sez so, DUH.

    It’s frightening to live in a society where people are not good and decent because goodness and decency are just a part of their character but because some invisible guy in the sky told them to be. What happens to their goodness during a crisis, when their non-existent friend fails to save them, and their entire moral stance is based solely on his existence. I don’t want to be near such people when the shit hits the fan.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I heard this on the radio yesterday. My first thought was this thread.
    http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/07/24/the-kindest-smackdown-ive-ever-seen/
    Today’s assignment is to compare and contrast the two. For extra credit, name three dead Christians who’ve bequeathed to avowedly atheist groups. Okay, one’ll do.

  • Erp

    Well there are fairly few atheist groups out there. Better might be name three Christians who donated to groups formed by known atheists.

    I should point that one Christian group did donate to the London atheist bus campaign.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    He was an atheist and I’m a very profound practicing Catholic, and I’d never met an atheist

    Just like she’d never met a homosexual I bet. Why is it so hard for some people to understand that there are others who hold differing views from them? Are they so insulated from the world in their little Christian bubble that they’re not even aware of a world outside of it?

  • Gilbert

    you can say you dont believe in God.You can say that there is no heaven.you can say that there is no hell. But to make a point on this man beliefs is not the issue.This man new he wasnt poor.This man had people who cared about him and knew his situation. This man knew what it takes to be truly happy.I think we could all learn something from Richard.Instead of looking at how people live you should ask yourselves,am I truly happy with my life right now?

  • Lee Ferrell

    Folk like this are far more numerous (still) than believers in the Sky-Guy-up-in-Paradise beyond the distant galactic “bubbles.” And, our compassion must extend even to those who are quietly obedient, are as kind as they can be…. I’ve know many nuns who were incredibly compassionate for little reward. Therein, of course, there were the authoritarians too.
    Some ignore them. The phrase might
    well be: “Authoritarianism corrupts. Absolute ” corrupts aabsolutely.” Kindness to all is much more rare with the shock-jock- radio/TV people who evince whatever compassion and kindness are not…. They are dangerous. Western History is replete with examples all the way back to Lycourgos in 8000-1500 BCE Aryan Greek Macedonians called, Spartans.
    The true democracies finally had enough and created a phalanx 50 deep, instead of Spartan 8. Thebes fnally woke up to the damage of the anti-humane hate-driven violent ones evoke (its found much more profitable), in ancient Greece, or among the Taliban who, but for their few leaders (believers in world Jihad) are just poor/poverty striken farmers whe get $10.00/day from “Al Queda” (just a name that gets lots of attention – not at all like the Pentagon. Karzai, is just another warlord who understands _another_ western empire much the same as Alexander 2400 years ago, thinks like propaganda about “eternal war.” Even the youngest warlord does not give the needy more than $1.00/day. For 10.00, they fight. For 1.00, they grow poppies for poppyseed bagels. Most don’t know most of the poppy produce in Afghanistan goes to our bagels and biyalies.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    Walters was kind, living (very) modestly, generous, and apparently quite humble.

    Tell me why we need religion to have morals again?

    According to christians I have talked to lately, you need religion to do generous things because otherwise your generous acts are meaningless.

    Actually, it makes a bizarre, sick sort of sense from the christian perspective – you don’t get to heaven from good works, and this present life *IS* meaningless compared to the promise of infinite cake after you die.

    From their point of view (as presented to me), making others lives better is pointless unless you are already “saved” – and “saving” others is the only meaningful help you can give them.

    I know, it sounds like a cruel Poe, but (cleaned of some of the religious language and interjections about how god is love and such), that’s precisely the sort of logic that it arises from.

    Some Christians really freak me out these days.


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