After years of living on the streets and refusing help from relatives, William Howard Norris picked up a pay phone two weeks ago and called his sister in Baltimore. He asked if he could come and live with her family.
His life had fallen apart the day his wife, Geraldine, died unexpectedly 15 years ago.
"We said, 'Yes, come home,' " said his brother, the Rev. James Norris, who works at The People's Baptist Church in Baltimore. "We had just seen him. He was coming. We want to know what happened."
At 7:40 a.m Tuesday, the 49-year-old Norris was walking east on E Street onto a North Capitol Street crosswalk near Union Station when he was struck and killed by a commuter bus from Loudoun County. Yellow Transportation Inc., which runs the Loudoun County Yellow Motor Coach Co., said the driver has been placed on leave. Police said yesterday that they are investigating the accident.
Norris's family said the accident was surprising because Norris normally was a careful man. Relatives and friends said Norris was a good man with bad fortune--a man whose heart never healed after his wife died and who, even years after his "Gerry" was gone, wrote her cards filled with words of love.
James Norris said they were raised in Baltimore in a working-class family of 10 children. Their father was a bricklayer. William Norris was a janitor.
William Norris's main joy came from spending time with Gerry, his brother said. He bought her flowers and took her on picnics. They enjoyed simple pleasures such as going to movies or just sitting on the sofa together. They met in Baltimore when Gerry was visiting a cousin.
When Geraldine Norris died, her husband became depressed. He stopped going to work. He lost his apartment. He started drinking.
"They were inseparable," said James Norris. "If you would see Geraldine, you'd see William."
William Norris often would say that he didn't want his problems to burden his family, said the Rev. Imagene B. Stewart, who runs the House of Imagene, a shelter for homeless families where Norris often stayed. She described him as a "quiet soul" who often helped out around the kitchen and stayed late after big Thanksgiving celebrations to clean tables and wash dishes.
"He didn't want to talk about his personal life," Stewart said. "When we would be washing dishes, I would try to get stuff out of him. I think he just loved Gerry. When she died that was his decline."
A stepson, William Cash, who lives in the District, said Norris was a good provider and once helped Cash buy a 1965 Oldsmobile, even though Norris's job did not pay much.
"There was nothing he wouldn't do for any of us," Cash said. "We were so happy, because recently he seemed to finally want us to help him."
Annie Thomas, Norris's mother-in-law, said William Norris seemed to be doing better in recent months. He came by her Southeast Washington home more often and occasionally stayed the night.
"I've never known him to walk in front of car," Thomas said. "He would cross back and forth all the time when he would buy me things from the store. He was always careful."