The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After years of ‘Good Mornings’ on K Street, Larry Tutt bids farewell

“Have a safe trip!” Larry Tutt, D.C.’s downtown good morning man, tells Michelle Brownstein, as she heads back home to Raleigh after a business trip to D.C. Tutt made her smile. (Petula Dvorak/The Washington Post)

Arlene Tutt never really got her brother’s job until she tried to do it, days after he died.

She had seen him as obsessed — probably a little confused — and certainly committed, day after day, to bringing his signature greeting to one of the least friendly places on earth. A mission from God, he would say, to spread the kindness lacking in a divided block, in a divided country.

The truth, she learned this week, is that on Washington’s K Street — the influence alley of American politics and power — few people had the reach of Larry Tutt.

“The kinds of people he talked to!” his sister, Arlene Tutt, marveled. “Bicycle riders. Lawyers. Lobbyists. They all knew him. How did Larry know all these people?”

Since 2009, he got up at 5 a.m. and rode the Metro to the heart of Washington’s lawyering and lobbying district, where he opened his collapsible chair and went about injecting humanity, smiles and the art of small-town conversation into the rush-rush epicenter of charcoal pinstripes and pumps.

He was known in Washington’s power corridor as the “Good Morning Man.”

And all these people stopped to gasp, weep and mourn that man this week, when the empty chair at his corner confirmed the “Good mornings” were gone.

“So sad to hear of this. I’ve been wondering all week where Larry moved to. I assumed it was because they put the scaffolding up,” Michelle Salvatera, who works at the White House on supply chain issues, wrote in a tribute to him on a GoFundMe page his family established to help cover his burial costs. “He made every morning I saw him a little bit brighter.”

Another commuter identified as B.H. remembered his impact: “Early in the pandemic, I was going into the office every day to work on a difficult project. It was a stressful, scary time. Without fail, he was at the corner with a ‘Good morning!’ ”

Good Morning man is who Washington needs right now

Truth is, many of them said goodbye to the Good Morning Man when the pandemic began altering the landscape of that downtown life. The white-collar workers stopped commuting, shops closed, the buzz of downtown became an eerie silence. The Good Morning Man retreated, for a time, into the silence of his apartment.

He was growing weaker as the crowds thinned and storefronts emptied, but he didn’t tell anyone. Still, he was back by the time Lisa Marlow returned to a different job on the same block.

“Good morning, beautiful! Or he’d say ‘Happy hump day!’ ” Marlow said. “And when I didn’t see him recently, I thought it was because of the construction here.”

Years ago, Larry Tutt told me God told him to spread joy. And he found the place he thought was the most joyless, soulless part of his native city — K Street. So he chose it, after years of working construction and cleaning, struggling with mental illness, addiction, incarceration and searching for his place in this world.

“Wow, yeah. He was there every morning, two simple words,” said Brett Shealy, a vice president at J.P. Morgan who began to rely on Tutt to start his day off right.

“He’d notice small things,” Shealy remembered, walking over to examine a flier of Larry taped to the cornerstone of a building near his usual seat. “Like when I got a haircut.”

His attention to detail was remarkable.

“Wait. Where’s Mr. Francis?” Tutt interrupted one of our talks years ago, when I did a column about him, to look at his watch. “Mr. Francis’s train is late today.”

And where is John?

“Tall John is running late today, too,” Tutt tutted.

In the early years, if he didn’t show up one day, people would ask him where he’d been. He took that as a challenge to up his work ethic. After a late night at a family gathering, he’d tell his sister: “I have to get to work in the morning. K Street needs me,” Arlene recalled.

Even after a truck jumped the curb and hit him nine years ago, Tutt returned. His family was totally puzzled by the mission.

“We just let Larry be Larry,” Arlene said. “But we’d ask him, especially when it was cold out: ‘What are you doing out there? Do you have to go out there?’ ”

After he was hospitalized on July 23, a nurse found him trying to pack his bag.

“He told her had to get to work,” Arlene said. “He said he needed to get back to K Street.”

After working in a D.C. courthouse for 35 years, she had a hard time seeing her brother’s corner conversations as a job.

“But he was always so kindhearted,” she said. “And he understood people. He always knew how to connect with people.”

Except her 67-year-old brother didn’t tell his family he had liver cancer. And just a week after he was checked into a hospital, after he defied his nurses to try to get back to K Street, he died.

So Arlene and some of his other family members — after catching their breath from the shock — thought they should go to his corner.

“All those years in the courthouse, there were people I barely talked to. You could go all day, and no one would say good morning to you. So I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do,” she said.

She brought his chair and some of the memorial T-shirts the family printed up. They made a flier with his photo, the news of his death and the GoFundMe information. It was awkward at first, Arlene said.

But one after another, the commuters stopped, looked around, looked for Larry’s chair amid the scaffolding that was going up around his spot.

“People came to me, in tears. I was consoling a lot of people, giving hugs,” she said. “They loved Larry. … Just a simple hello. He never had much. But see what a simple hello did?”

This was why he stayed out there in the cold and the heat, she realized.

“That changed me,” she said. “That gave me a different perspective on life. On Larry. He did have a job all those years. And he had a family out there.”

The Catholic Information Center at 1501 K St., by Larry Tutt’s corner, will be holding a memorial mass for him Friday at noon.