His daughter, Mary Elizabeth Brumfield, 14 when he left home, tried Ancestry.com, the online genealogical research service, hoping to find distant relatives who might shed light on what had happened to her father. Nothing there either.
In 2013, unbeknown to Mr. Brumfield’s family, the city of Alexandria was doing a count of its homeless population. A social worker persuaded Mr. Brumfield to reveal his name, and an online search yielded the information that someone had been looking for a man of that name. That someone was Mary Elizabeth Brumfield. The social worker in Alexandria called and told her that her father had been found.
But she still had to locate Mr. Brumfield, who had no fixed address. She learned that he frequented a Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 1 .
They knew him there. They often gave him a free cup of coffee and a doughnut. They promised to call whenever he came in, and they did. But Mr. Brumfield was always gone before his daughter could get there.
She decided to wait there for him, and one morning he walked in. She recognized him right away.
Tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m Mary Elizabeth.”
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He did not reciprocate. “No . . . no . . . no,” she remembered him saying.
Later, however, he did acknowledge her presence. But she could never persuade him to live anywhere but the streets, and he refused all offers of medical or mental assistance, she said.
Gerald Dan Brumfield was born Nov. 1, 1951, in Iaeger, W.Va. His mother was a teenager when he was born, and he was raised by a grandmother. He joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and later was sent to Vietnam. He had lived in the Washington area since the 1970s. For periods he was a security guard and an office assistant.
He also appeared to have been suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness, his daughter said. He acted strangely, sometimes spoke to airplanes. He would not accept help. In 1992, he disappeared.
For six years after she rediscovered her father, Mary Elizabeth Brumfield visited him regularly, about once a month. He wanted to live outdoors, he told her. She asked him about the cold weather, and he said he hopped trains south in the wintertime. She once bought him a winter coat.
The family talked about whether anything in Mr. Brumfield’s Vietnam experience could have provoked a mental illness, but they never resolved the issue. He might have qualified for veterans benefits, but he was unwilling to apply. He resisted the idea of living in a shelter.
He often wore a construction worker’s hard hat, and he carried a Bible about with him.
A day before he died, someone at the Great Southern Tattoo Co. on North Kings Highway near the Jefferson Manor area of Fairfax County noticed someone sitting strangely still in a grassy area across the street, next to the Calvary Presbyterian Church. The police were called, and Mr. Brumfield was taken to a hospital. He was hemorrhaging internally.
Mr. Brumfield was known by name to many local police officers, and one of them called his daughter with the news.
“I didn’t want him to die alone,” she said later. Her mother and a brother, neither of whom had seen Mr. Brumfield since 1992, joined her in a deathbed vigil.
“My father’s eyes were open,” his daughter said. “I told him after 27 years it was the first time our family was together.”
A few minutes later, Mr. Brumfield died. Sepsis was the official cause of death.
Survivors include his wife, Vicky Valbuena Brumfield, and a son, Thomas Brumfield, both of Gaithersburg; a daughter, Mary Elizabeth Brumfield of Bethesda, Md.; and a granddaughter.
Mr. Brumfield was buried with full military honors at the Crownsville Veterans Cemetery in Maryland.
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