New Home Had Given Guy Dow, 63, Some Hope

Guy Dow in better days, with sons Joe, right, and Nathan, at their home in San Diego in 1979. He worked for 13 years as a salesman of HVAC supplies.
Guy Dow in better days, with sons Joe, right, and Nathan, at their home in San Diego in 1979. He worked for 13 years as a salesman of HVAC supplies. (Family Photo)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"He had finally found a glimmer of hope, and then this happened to him," said Joe Dow, speaking recently about his father, Guy Dow.

The elder Dow was a former salesman who spent most of the last 15 years of his life homeless on the streets of the District. On March 23, he succumbed to second- and third-burns suffered in an apartment fire caused by his cigarette. He died at Washington Hospital Center at 63.

For many years, Mr. Dow sold newspapers at the U.S. Navy Memorial. The memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue NW was his place, day and night, winter and summer. He shared it with Harry, another homeless man. Mr. Dow looked out for Harry.

Mr. Dow "was a real garrulous guy who made it real clear that he was going to continue drinking," said Linda M. Kaufman, chief operating officer of Pathways to Housing, a nonprofit agency dedicated to getting homeless people off the street. The organization helped put Mr. Dow in an apartment as part of the District's Housing First program, which started in the fall.

To the thousands who pass by the memorial every workday, the bearded man in a cap hawking newspapers was a familiar face, but few, if any, knew his story.

Guy Patrick Dow was born in Ogdensburg, N.Y. When he was 2, his father died and his mother had trouble keeping the family together, so he and his two sisters and brother grew up in a succession of orphanages in Syracuse, N.Y.

In 1967, when he was in his early 20s, he fled the winters of Upstate New York and started a new life in sunny San Diego. He married, had three children and worked for 13 years as a salesman for Johnstone Supply, a wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other supplies.

Then, something happened. He was laid off, the family fell apart and he left San Diego in the late 1980s. He moved to Alexandria to help care for his brother Joe, who had suffered a succession of strokes. When his brother died in the early 1990s, Mr. Dow drifted to the streets, estranged from his family.

His marriage to Linda Dow ended in divorce. His son Joe last saw him 20 years ago.

In addition to Joe, of Monterey, Calif., survivors include his son Nathan Dow of San Diego and his daughter Kimberly Crisafulli of Oswego, N.Y.; and two sisters.

Life on the streets was hard. Mr. Dow battled alcoholism, was in and out of various programs and faced the ravages of Washington weather. Twice he almost lost his feet to frostbite. At the end of his life, he was using a wheelchair.

Pathways to Housing rescued his father, Joe Dow said. The organization's concept of housing the homeless and then providing treatment for alcoholism or mental illness "is definitely a saving grace," he said. "It gives them something to strive for."

Mr. Dow was off the streets and in his apartment in Northeast Washington for a month. Members of a Pathways support team checked on him several times a week.

"He was so pleased to be in his own place, to be making decisions about his own place," said Kaufman, who is planning a memorial service for Mr. Dow at the Navy Memorial.

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