Robert Frye came home from the hospital yesterday. Transportation mode: wheelchair. Mental mood: floating on air.
Reunited after more than two months, Robert and Dorothy Frye, a retarded Northeast couple whose misfortunes were reported in The Washington Post last week, have begun life anew. All their weeks of loneliness were suddenly over. And all their financial woes -- hospital bills, unpaid rent, losses to a burglary and unscrupulous neighbors -- had vanished as well.
By yesterday afternoon, Post readers had sent 756 letters, donations and food packages to the newspaper on behalf of the Fryes. The money will go to pay the couple's regular expenses, said Vincent Reed, the Post's vice president for communications.
It was an extraordinary outpouring of public support for a couple whose independent ways had taken them from childhoods in a mental institution to the self-sufficient lives of working people.
At their Northeast apartment yesterday, Dorothy Frye said the tenants were lined up to welcome her husband home.
"He feels fine," she said. "People have been sending us all kinds of food and things. Yes, indeed. We are happy, happy."
Shirley Morgan of Suitland, who is in touch with the Fryes twice daily and has struggled to keep them solvent since Robert Frye's seizures required him to leave his job, said the reaction to the couple's plight has been overwhelming.
"Hallelujah is all I can say," she said. "My phone keeps ringing and ringing. My goodness, people are wonderful."
The letters of support came on New Year's cards, scraps of paper and formal stationery.
Linda Shanholtz, mother of a retarded son who lives with her, said, "I worry about what may happen to him when we are no longer around to care for him."
An interior designer offered to help Dorothy Frye sell her needlepoint work. Two women who once met Dorothy Frye on a walk in their Northeast neighborhood sent a check. Another couple offered their telephone number in case the Fryes ever need help.
"Many people have helped me during my life with both money and love," wrote Mary Ann Lightfoot of Chevy Chase. "Please allow me to repay them just a little bit by giving you this check."
Barbara Jackson wrote that she was planning to go out on New Year's Eve until she read about the Fryes. "Then we decided we would rather help them out," she wrote.
Many readers said they were especially touched by the Fryes' fighting spirit and by their ability to survive for many years without government support. And some donors were motivated simply by desire to help another.
"Please accept this gift," an anonymous donor wrote. "I have never had to go without."